At the start of last week, the papers were obsessed with Gordon Brown’s first use of the C-word. By the end of the week politicians of all hues were at it and it was impossible to get away from it.
The Financial Times was among those to flag up that health secretary Andy Burnham has for the first time publicly echoed NHS chief executive David Nicholson’s estimate that the NHS will need to save £15-£20bn by 2014. The paper quoted NHS Confederation policy director Nigel Edwards: “This is the first ministerial acknowledgement of the scale of the challenge. The good news is that it has been publicly acknowledged, and we welcome that realism. The bad news is that it is at least as bad as we thought.”
Was Mr Burnham’s acknowledgement of the need to cut the reason why, according to most of the papers, he was one of the first two Cabinet ministers to be called in to see Alistair Darling to discuss his “priorities”?
The Independent, meanwhile, focused on another C-word: cost. It covered the quiet publication by the Treasury last Friday of freedom of information documents revealing Department of Health estimates that the Conservatives’ promise to provide 45,000 additional single hospital rooms would cost £1.9bn - adding up to £9.5bn over five years - as opposed to the £1.5bn the Tories had estimated.
Perhaps the extra £8bn is for bricks - DH calculations assume each room has four walls because “a room with less than four walls is not considered by the Department of Health to be a single room as it does not meet the requirements for infection control or privacy/dignity”.
I distinctly remember asking shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley when he made the announcement how many walls a single room had to have, to which he replied “at least three”.