Is there enough real news to fill all those newspapers and dedicated TV news channels? In most years there are only two or three serious news items, ones that will be remembered, I sometimes joke.
Real news - local and global - is both important and unexpected. And in healthcare Barbara Young’s resignation as chair of the new “super-regulator”, the Care Quality Commission - an HSJ scoop - is one such.
By general consent Young made herself vulnerable by voicing her doubts about the health check’s approach publicly
It matters and it was unexpected, MPs know. “She wasn’t there as a transitional figure,” insists one.
Since Bill Moyes is poised to quit as Mr Monitor in the New Year and Baroness Young is now set to follow him, it creates a significant black hole in the regulatory regime - just at a time when, post Basildon (etc), it is under pressure in the election run-up. No wonder ministers launched their campaign against depression in its wake.
So what happened? It depends who you consult, of course, and most people are not talking publicly. What all sides seem to agree was a central issue was that Young had lost confidence in the government’s traditional health check approach to assessing hospital performance.
As we all discovered, its weaknesses were exposed by Dr Foster’s Hospital Guide findings - angrily disputed at local level by trust managers and their MPs, including Tory ones - and the allegedly “toothless” CQC’s own spot check in Basildon, which contradicted the October health check.
Young wanted the new, more specific methodology to be implemented much sooner than planned. A self-confessed “Labour luvvie” and peer since 1997, she moved to the crossbenches when she became head of the Environment Agency in 2000.
“No one told us you were Labour,” Ken Clarke is supposed to have said after working with her for years as an NHS manager. So there is a bit of a family falling out here, though not the furious rows reported in the Mail on Sunday, hardly gentle Andy Burnham’s style.
There’s a sub-plot about the nature of future enforcement, the risk-rated registration of hospitals. Tory critics of Burnham and David Nicholson’s regime in Whitehall believe Young wanted more than the power to grant registration or not.
She wanted the authority to say “do this” transferred from SHAs and the department to the CQC, explains one. “It’s about power.”
Ministers dispute claims that they were blocking Young. Burnham had been persuaded of the need to move faster, although there seems to have been a dispute about the feasibility of running the old and new methods alongside each other for a while.
Some ministers speak cheerfully of different regulatory voices providing “a culture of challenge”, not a line of argument which endears itself to Andrew Lansley, secretary of state in waiting, who watched Baroness Young demand many of the changes he too wants to see. She would have survived the election, I think.
By general consent Young made herself vulnerable by voicing her doubts about the health check’s approach publicly as the Basildon crisis first broke - and being skewered by Radio 4’s Evan Davis.
Ministers were cross to hear “something big’s breaking at Basildon” from reporters - no advance warning from the CQC. It was when Burnham rang her to complain of the (CQC?) leak that Young told him she planned to resign anyway.
There are hints, reflected in the media, of tensions (“abusive emails”) within the top of the CQC (how happy is Cynthia Bower?), unrelated to dramas in Essex. I can’t say, though I can dismiss chatter that Burnham’s move was our old chum, a “leadership bid”. He has enough trouble already.