Tory MP opens fire on Cameron’s NHS reforms

Sarah Wollaston warns that key parts of the reforms are “completely unrealistic” and “doomed to fail

The Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston has previously likened Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms to throwing a "grenade" into the health service. Today, she launches a similarly explosive device at David Cameron.

In an op-ed piece for the Sunday Telegraph, Wollaston, who was a GP until last May, calls for dramatic changes to the government's Health Bill to "regain public and professional confidence". Along the way, she provides Ed Miliband with plenty of ammunition for future PMQs.

Wollaston describes the reforms as a "Trojan horse", warns that important elements of the reorganisation are "completely unrealistic" and "doomed to fail", and says that the NHS could be changed "beyond recognition". One should add that she rebuts Cameron's rhetoric more effectively than many on the opposite side of the House. She writes:

At Prime Minister's Questions last week David Cameron said: "We are not reorganising the bureaucracy of the NHS, we are abolishing the bureaucracy of the NHS."

That is part of the problem.

It is one thing to rapidly dismantle the entire middle layer of NHS management but it is completely unrealistic to assume that this vast organisation can be managed by a commissioning board in London with nothing in between it and several hundred inexperienced commissioning consortia.

Taking aim at the centrepiece of the reforms, Wollaston argues that GPs are neither willing nor able to manage £80bn of the £100bn NHS budget. David Cameron may dismiss the British Medical Association, which has called for the government to withdraw its bill, as just another "trade union", but he will struggle to ignore the criticisms of one of his own MPs.

Cameron is too committed to these reforms personally to attempt a forests-style U-turn. Lansley will be spared the Spelman treatment. But following the decision to abandon price competition, I'd wager that the coalition will look again at the "any willing provider" rule and at the decision to place the NHS under EU competition law for the first time (something Cameron seemed only vaguely aware of at PMQs).

Lansley's ideological blueprint may not survive contact with reality.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood