It was telling that health secretary Andrew Lansley had to defend his NHS reforms himself on the letters page of The Times last week. The national papers have scented blood.

So, while plenty of coverage has been devoted to the sticky situation he has got himself into, few column inches are being given to his arguments for reform.

The Sunday Telegraph and Independent on Sunday both claimed exclusives on possible compromises – the former giving some hints as to how the Health Bill could be “watered down”.

By the next day, rumours were circulating of a three-month breather before the bill returns to Parliament. That was welcomed in a Daily Mail leader, but just how effective the listening exercise will be is unclear.

“We can’t have an event until we can agree what to say,” one senior source was quoted saying.

In the same paper, Iain Martin wrote that Mr Lansley “was supposed to be David Cameron’s safe pair of hands”, but now the prime minister may have to “throw his beleaguered friend overboard”.

There was widespread consensus that part of the problem was Mr Lansley’s inability to convince the public of the case for massive change.

In The Guardian, another shadowy Whitehall source was quoted as saying Downing Street no longer listens to Mr Lansley, preferring the advice of NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson.

While the Financial Times reported: “People close to Mr Cameron are exasperated at the way Mr Lansley has sold the biggest shift in power and accountability in the history of the NHS.”

“Poor Andrew Lansley,” wrote Philip Hammond in The Times’s Thunderer column. He complained the main problem with the bill was that it was “unreadable” and “impossibly complex”.