The papers have been jostling to say the previously unsayable this week and break the political taboo that some hospitals must close if the NHS is to remain clinically safe and financially viable.

The Times kicked this off with a front page story and a two-page special report inside based on comments made by Royal College of Nursing head Peter Carter to the Commons health select committee that some hospitals were a “drain on the system”.

The story was picked up by the Daily Mail and Telegraph, while the Observer followed it up at the weekend, reporting comments from King’s Fund chief executive Chris Ham that 20 hospitals must shut to avert a “financial crisis”.

Former Labour health secretary Alan Milburn’s intervention in the reforms “debacle” came in the form of a piece for the Telegraph in which he warned of a “patchwork quilt of decision-making for years to come” and claimed the government’s revised plan would set back market based reform of the NHS by a generation.

It provoked much discussion in the Sunday papers. Independent on Sunday columnist John Rentoul remarked it was “significant” Mr Milburn had waited until now to come out in support of Lansley’s original plan while in the the Sunday Telegraph Janet Daley used the endorsement as proof “the Right is right”.

Writing for the Independent on Monday, Mr Lansley was more humble and acknowledged the “uncertainty” the pause has caused for the 1.4 million NHS staff.

He revealed he expected to bring forward 150 amendments to the original Health and Social Care Bill and hopes this will be seen as a “key moment” in years to come when “we put the NHS on the road to success”.