NHS: Cameron on back-foot as he makes ‘guarantees’

By Ian Dunt

David Cameron made a defensive speech promising not to privatise the NHS today, as he fought to salvage the coalition’s NHS reforms.

In a sign that the prime minister is now on the back foot over the plans, he offered the public a series of guarantees, covering issues including privatisation and waiting lists, which he could be held “personally accountable for”.

Mr Cameron promised not to “endanger universal coverage”, “break up or hinder efficient and integrated care”, “lose control of waiting times” or “cut spending on the NHS”.

“And if you’re worried that we are going to sell-off the NHS and create some American-style private system – we will not,” he said.

The fact that the prime minister has been forced to resort to personal guarantees to firm up support for NHS reform is being treated as evidence that the Conservatives have failed to sell the proposals for GPs’ consortia and increased competition to the public.

Backbench Conservatives will be discomforted by the strength of his commitment to opposing privatisation in the NHS, given the pressure for more private involvement in the system.

But the most potentially damaging guarantee focuses on waiting times, given the Conservatives explicitly opposed targets at the general election.

Mr Cameron has angrily countered Labour accusations that waiting times have since gone up, but today’s guarantee suggests the party believes the public is unconvinced.

“David Cameron is desperately trying to make ‘I love the NHS’ his signature tune, but the reality is very different,” John Healey, shadow health secretary, commented.

“With real terms cuts to funding, more patients waiting longer and ideological plans to break up services, he has broken his personal pledge to protect the NHS and is instead taking it backwards. The NHS is not safe in his hands.”