The Daily Telegraph started the weekend with a rare morsel of good news for Andrew Lansley.
A survey by the website ConservativeHome had found that 72 per cent of Tory rank and file members supported his plans to “introduce private sector providers into the health service” and hand most of the NHS budget to commissioning consortia.
It is unlikely Mr Lansley basked for long in this approval, as Sunday Telegraph columnist Janet Daley characterised his reform attempts as “a mess which can only apparently be neutralised by a sacrifice of fundamental principle and a Cabinet resignation”. By Monday, the Daily Telegraph reported David Cameron was so concerned about the issue he would make personal promises to “keep waiting lists low, maintain spending, not to privatise the NHS, to keep care integrated and to remain committed to the ‘national’ part of the health service”.
Until the weekend the NHS reform furore had been all but eclipsed by two other stories: the huge, and financially struggling, care home operator Southern Cross’s decision to withhold 30 per cent of its rent for four months, and the BBC Panorama programme’s revelations of abuse of residents of Winterbourne View, a residential hospital for people with learning disabilities run by private company Castlebeck.
As the Independent on Sunday commented, the two stories combined “to provide a terrible advertisement for the provision of public services by private companies”.
Other bad press for private provision came from a Financial Times investigation: one in seven privately run care homes in England were given low ratings by the Care Quality Commission, compared with just one in 11 run by non-profit makers or local authorities, the paper found.