Well, that didn’t take long.
Wes Streeting had a sudden mental infection over the weekend. By this afternoon, the spin doctors had operated on him. There was no waiting list for Wes. It was a great success. The patient died but the operation succeeded.
In the Sunday Telegraph, Streeting had told the world of his dissatisfaction with the NHS. That they expected ever larger sums of money for doing the same things badly. That any talk of reform was forbidden, and regarded as bigotry. He said that he now understood the NHS wasn’t always, entirely and absolutely there for the sake of its patients. He had come to the conclusion that so many of us have. His conclusion? Reform or die!
His remarks were read by Conservatives as a short-term gift and a long-term threat. If Labour felt able to criticise the NHS on the basis of patient care, they would take a very large considerable slice of the Tory swing vote. Because, whatever the Mirror says about support for the nurses’ strike (running somewhere north of 110% according to their polling) the post-Covid public are beginning to sense there is something wrong with this massive, malformed, malfunctioning medical megalopolis.
Alas, in his Urgent Question, Wes Streeting took it all back. He was banging pots for the NHS. The dysfunctional organisation wasn’t to blame in any way – the strikes were entirely the work of Tories. All it needed was a few minutes of the Minister’s time to talk to the nurses – yes, only a a few minutes. And they couldn’t even do that. They couldn’t even do the (etc)… “The power to stop the strikes is in their hands!” he declared. But the Tories wouldn’t because they had a plan – “a disgusting plan” and he demanded to know whether the minister wasn’t embarrassed by the Government’s behaviour.
The minister said the nurses had been given 3% last year, were asking for 5% above RPI this year, and that what they were asking for amounted to 6.5% of the NHS budget. He also mentioned that the private sector wouldn’t be getting a 19% pay increase any time soon. That sounded like a complete case for dry-as-dust, uncaring, conservative-minded listeners (it’s not as easy as it looks being like this, you know).
Mr Streeting is clear – or nearly clear – of a cancer. His August scan would have confirmed him healthy, had it taken place; we all hope that it will when the time comes, and wish him well. On Sunday, he voiced what very many of us think: it’s only natural that personal experience modifies one’s political ideas. He will surely be aware that with a record 7.5 million on waiting lists, that constituency is growing.