The coalition's NHS U-turn

Andrew Lansley abandons plans to introduce price competition.

Two weeks ago, when I listed the coalition's ten biggest U-turns, I suggested that the NHS was next in line. "The smart money is on the government watering down its reforms," I wrote.

Sure enough, Andrew Lansley has announced a major U-turn over NHS price competition. The Health Secretary is planning to amend his own bill to prevent providers from charging a maximum, as opposed to a fixed, price for treatment. In other words, the private sector will not be handed free rein to offer temporary loss leaders and undercut the NHS.

The NHS Operating Framework, published in December, stated that hospitals would be free to offer services to commissioners "at less than the published mandatory tariff price". But Lansley now tells the Financial Times: "We want the tariff to be a nationally regulated price, not a starting point for price competition. These amendments will put our intentions beyond doubt."

It takes some chutzpah for him to claim that he never wanted to introduce price competition in the first place, but the U-turn should be welcomed all the same. As studies by the LSE and Imperial have shown, the limited experiment with price competition during the Major government led to a decline in standards of care.

One doubts that this will be the last concession. The "mad" decision (in the words of the British Medical Journal) to introduce the biggest upheaval in the service's history, just when the NHS is required to make unprecedented savings of £15-20bn, will return to haunt the coalition.

Here's the key passage from the BMJ's must-read editorial on the subject:

Sir David Nicholson, the NHS chief executive, has described the proposals as the biggest change management programme in the world -- the only one so large "that you can actually see it from space." (More ominously, he added that one of the lessons of change management is that "most big change management systems fail.")

Of the annual 4% efficiency savings expected of the NHS over the next four years, the Commons health select committee said, "The scale of this is without precedent in NHS history; and there is no known example of such a feat being achieved by any other healthcare system in the world." To pull off either of these challenges would therefore be breathtaking; to believe that you could manage both of them at once is deluded.

How long will the coalition remain in denial?

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Just you wait – soon fake news will come to football

No point putting out a story saying that Chelsea got stuffed 19-1 by Spurs. Who would believe it, even if Donald Trump tweeted it?

So it is all settled: Cristiano Ronaldo will be arriving at Carlisle United at the end of the month, just before deadline day. It all makes sense. He has fallen in love with a Herdwick sheep, just as Beatrix Potter did, and like her, he is putting his money and energy into helping Cumbria, the land of the Herdwick.

He fell out with his lover in Morocco, despite having a private plane to take him straight from every Real Madrid game to their weekly assignation, the moment this particular Herdwick came into his life. His mother will be coming with him, as well as his son, Cristiano Ronaldo, Jr. They want to bring the boy
up communing with nature, able to roam free, walking among the lakes and fells.

Behind the scenes, his agent has bought up CUFC and half of Cumbria on his behalf, including Sellafield, so it is a wise investment. Clearly CUFC will be promoted this year – just look where they are in the table – then zoom-zoom, up they go, back in the top league, at which point his agent hopes they will be offered megabucks by some half-witted Chinese/Russian/Arab moneybags.

Do you believe all that? It is what we now call in the trade fake news, or post-truth – or, to keep it simple, a total lie, or, to be vulgar, complete bollocks. (I made it up, although a pundit on French TV hinted that he thought the bit about Ronaldo’s friend in Morocco might not be too far-fetched. The stuff about Beatrix Potter loving Herdwicks is kosher.)

Fake news is already the number-one topic in 2017. Just think about all those round robins you got with Christmas cards, filled with fake news, such as grandchildren doing brilliantly at school, Dad’s dahlias winning prizes, while we have just bought a gem in Broadstairs for peanuts.

Fake news is everywhere in the world of politics and economics, business and celebrity gossip, because all the people who really care about such topics are sitting all day on Facebook making it up. And if they can’t be arsed to make it up, they pass on rubbish they know is made up.

Fake news has long been with us. Instead of dropping stuff on the internet, they used to drop it from the skies. I have a copy of a leaflet that the German propaganda machine dropped over our brave lads on the front line during the war. It shows what was happening back in Blighty – handsome US soldiers in bed with the wives and girlfriends of our Tommies stuck at the front.

So does it happen in football? At this time of the year, the tabloids and Sky are obsessed by transfer rumours, or rumours of transfer rumours, working themselves into a frenzy of self-perpetuating excitement, until the final minute of deadline day, when the climax comes at last, uh hum – all over the studio, what a mess.

In Reality, which is where I live, just off the North Circular – no, down a bit, move left, got it – there is no such thing as fake news in football. We are immune from fantasy facts. OK, there is gossip about the main players – will they move or will they not, will they be sued/prosecuted/dropped?

Football is concerned with facts. You have to get more goals than the other team, then you win the game. Fact. Because all the Prem games are live on telly, we millions of supplicant fans can see with our eyes who won. No point putting out a story saying that Chelsea got stuffed 19-1 by Spurs. Who would believe it, even if Donald Trump tweeted it?

I suppose the Russkis could hack into the Sky transmissions, making the ball bounce back out of the goal again, or manipulating the replay so goals get scored from impossible angles, or fiddling the electronic scoreboards.

Hmm, now I think about it, all facts can be fiddled, in this electronic age. The Premier League table could be total fiction. Bring back pigeons. You could trust them for the latest news. Oh, one has just arrived. Ronaldo’s romance  with the Herdwick is off! And so am I. Off to Barbados and Bequia
for two weeks.

Hunter Davies’s latest book is “The Biscuit Girls” (Ebury Press, £6.99)

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge