For a bumbling amateur politician, Robert Winston seems to have done remarkably well in persuading Gordon Brown to open his cheque book. Indeed, his performance reminded me of one of those pre-war cartoons by Bateman.
He was the chap who was always drawing some very innocent-looking character apparently making a verbal gaffe which shocked everyone in earshot. The caption would read: The man who addressed a judge as Mr.
Lord Winston was thus the man who said the NHS was underfunded. Everyone knows its true. But shock, horror all round! Alastair Campbell gets on the case, and has some of the doctors toenails removed in the Downing Street cellars. His lordship disowns his New Statesman interview. No one believes him.
Media and opposition have a field-day .
One week on, where are we? A little better-off from an NHS standpoint, I think. On Breakfast with Frost Tony Blair publicly set his face against alternative sources of health finance. That was the question Lord Winston raised rhetorically when he talked of changing the whole way the package is funded to prevent the relentless decay of the service which his NS interview described.
If we don't want that, then we pay more tax or have an insurance system. I see no alternative, the Motormouth Medic added. The Tories and their media allies (the papers so keen on tax cuts) are promoting the insurance top-up option, which Alan Milburn dealt with so effectively in a little-noticed speech on 20 December .
Even before gene sciences render collective provision yet more essential (people with dodgy genes wont get insured), insurance works mainly for the healthy and the wealthy who need it least. Private insurance plus state top-ups are a costly disaster in the US, the state insurance versions bureaucratic in the EU.
But - typical Blair - the PM has grasped the comparative point, the fact that Britain spends only 6.7 per cent GNP on health, public and private combined, when France and Germany spend 8-9 per cent. Hence his pledge, hastily agreed with Iron Gordon, I expect, to raise total spending to 8 per cent of GNP by 2006 - by adding an extra£2bn a year to the NHS budget for the next six years under what is known as Spending Review 2000.
That's 5 per cent extra instead of the 3 per cent already planned. Its taxpayers money, of course. Its probably what they had pencilled in all along, but had intended to keep for closer to the election - part of the chancellors famous war chest. But dont be overimpressed by polls which say that 76 per cent of voters would prefer the 1p income tax cut coming in April spent on the NHS. They always say that, yet election results suggest otherwise. The Tories are still off the radar with voters.
Who's had a good war then? Bouncer Milburn has kept his nerve, despite the sniping and that NS hint that Winston liked Dobbo (a good man, but the NHS was already out of control ), but does not like Bouncer .
Relenza may be a doubtful pharmaceutical remedy, but the Tory jibe that hurt was that NHS managers failed to ease the winter crisis by giving their own staff a flu jab.
What with Jack Straw (Pinochet and Mike Tyson) and Mos problems, Labour had a rough few days, though it was not the Daily Mails eagerly awaited turning point ( The week Britain woke up to Labour ).
The governments crime in 1997 was pretending it could turn the NHS round quickly, especially when it was planning to be tight with the cash.
We cannot conjure trained doctors and nurses out of thin air, Mr Milburn was forced to plead on Monday before he set out those modest pay rises. Beating him into the TV studios, the NHS Confederations Stephen Thornton had already warned that most of this years extra money would be devoured by pay, pensions, EU working-week rules. It leaves just 1 per cent to improving the service.
What about Lord Winston, then? A bit nave, and it was a mistake to mention Cherie Blairs pregnancy - even off the record. The interviewer let him down, and it gave Downing Street an excuse to remove those toenails. I think that he was upset by his 87year-old mothers hospital treatment. When egalitarian VIPs, committed to the NHS, experience egalitarian services, it sometimes shakes them.