'Not so long ago, local family doctors were running a close third to apple pie and motherhood in the list of safe things for politicians to support'

Is David Cameron making a tactical error on health policy?

This week the Conservative leader got back in touch with his softer side, shifting the focus of his party's message away from plans for the economy and putting health at the forefront of his renewed push on social and public service issues.

As this column has highlighted before, the Conservatives see GPs as the defenders of all that is good in the NHS. Not so long ago, local family doctors were running a close third to apple pie and motherhood in the list of safe things for politicians to support. But now public backing is waning.

As HSJ shows this week, Fleet Street is losing patience with GPs. The Sunday Times and Daily Express have run critical stories in the last few days, while on Monday The Times splashed on HSJ's story of three weeks ago about pressure on primary care trusts to improve access.

The response of Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs committee, clings to the orthodoxy that the public will not want to get primary care from the private sector. But given a choice between free private sector care and inadequate or no GP care - as is too often the case - the public may well choose the former.

These dilemmas and more could rebound on Conservative policy. The party is seeking to defend a system which is in need of reform, whether to better serve middle class professionals who want out-of-hours appointments or people living in poor urban areas where inadequate primary care provision is a major driver of health inequalities.