Cameron launches NHS offensive

By Ian Dunt

David Cameron has been forced to make a pivotal speech reasserting his loyalty to the NHS after a torrid week of troublesome headlines for the Tory leader.

Last week Mr Cameron was forced on the defensive after Tory MEP Daniel Hannan went on American television to tell audiences he would not “wish the NHS” on anyone.

Yesterday it was revealed one of his shadow health minister’s – Lord McColl – is a consultant to Endeavour Health, a private firm which replicates GP services.

Mr Cameron did himself no favours when he appeared unsure of Lord McColl’s Christian name during an interview on GMTV yesterday.

But today the Tory leader appeared desperate to tackle the issue head-on with a tough speech in Bolton, Greater Manchester.

“The debt crisis means we need a new approach to public spending, to make sure we get more for less. But in the NHS, even that won’t do,” he said.

“That is why we have pledged real-terms increases in NHS spending – unlike Labour – a fact which, to put it mildly, takes the wind out of their point-scoring sails.”

The Conservative leader stressed that the reforms he wanted to implement to the NHS, including opening up the service to new providers and the end of top-down targets, would merely accompany reform.

“We believe in the NHS. We understand the pressures it faces. We are the party of the NHS today because we not only back the values of the NHS, we have a vision for the future of the NHS,” he said.

But Labour, which have been euphoric at the way the summer debate over the NHS played directly into its agenda, accused Mr Cameron of weak leadership.

“If a rattled David Cameron won’t stand up to special interests and hardliners in his party, how can he be trusted to keep his promises on health?” said health minister Gillian Merron.

“Warm words and no action aren’t enough to hide the two faces of the Tory party on the NHS.”

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis came to the same conclusion.

“Anyone who thinks that the Tories are the party of the NHS is living on another planet,” he commented.

“David Cameron may have respect for the NHS, but the events of the past week have shown that the Tories do not support the NHS.

“And no amount of back-peddling from Cameron will now convince people that it has their full backing.”

Mr Cameron has had a difficult summer, with the NHS controversy coming on the back of Alan Duncan’s expenses gaffe.