Jeremy Hunt waits to deliver a speech at the Evelina London Children's Hospital on July 5, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Tories can't avoid the blame for hospitals being put in special measures

The emergency action is a damning indictment of the pressures the government has created on the frontline.

Today, Jeremy Hunt shockingly tried to claim credit for the number of hospitals placed in special measures. He spoke as if these problems on the frontline were nothing to do with him – and that his role was simply to call them out. He placed 11 trusts in special measures last year following a review by Sir Bruce Keogh and five more have gone into special measures since.

The truth is that this Tory-led government has caused huge problems in the NHS. And the fact that so many hospitals have had to be placed in special measures is a damning indictment of the pressures the government has created on the frontline – and for which they have never apologised.

In Spring 2013, three years after David Cameron began his vast, top-down reorganisation of the NHS, Bruce Keogh inspected 14 hospital trusts and found worrying care problems. Some of these hospitals had been under pressure for some time. But far from getting to grips with the problems, the Tory-led government made matters far, far worse.

First, they turned the NHS upside down with an unnecessary reorganisation that sucked £3bn out of patient care. When David Cameron was forcing his health Bill through, NHS leaders warned the reorganisation was putting services at risk. But he refused to listen and ploughed on regardless.

Second, in the first three years of the Parliament, Cameron presided over the loss of thousands of NHS nurses. Unsurprisingly, the Keogh Review said nursing shortages were a key cause of the problems they found – yet the government has never taken responsibility for this. The fact that the NHS has now had to scramble to recruit more nurses is an admission the Government made a monumental error letting numbers fall so far in the first place. Equally worrying are the cuts we have seen to nurse training places – 10,000 fewer trained over the last four years – which is only storing up problems for the future.

Astonishingly, Jeremy Hunt talked about the need for transparency in the NHS. But the government still refuses to comply with the Information Commissioner’s ruling that they publish the risk assessment for their NHS reorganisation – despite the fact that Robert Francis, who led the inquiry into Mid-Staffordshire hospital trust, called for these assessments to be made public. Were the government warned their reorganisation would lead to the haemorrhaging of nurses and widespread care problems? Were they warned their reorganisation would hit A&E? While they continue to cover things up, I guess we’ll never know.

The vast majority of NHS staff now say that David Cameron’s reorganisation has harmed patient care. Incredibly, just 3 per cent say it has improved patient care. A recent survey for the Nursing Times found the majority of nurses saying their ward was dangerously understaffed, and more nurses said that safety has worse over the last year than better. The sad truth is that by turning the NHS upside down with a damaging reorganisation and causing a crisis in A&E, the government has made care problems more likely, not less.

I’m proud it was the last Labour government that introduced independent regulation of healthcare, and we support tough inspections of hospitals. That shouldn’t stop us asking how we can prevent care problems occurring in the first place, though – and scrutinising the damage this government has done to patient care.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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