I don't know where it came from but in the past few days we've started reading in the papers that Gordon Brown may not last the course. What's more, health secretary Alan Johnson may be the man to take over.

Don't go straight out to buy Johnson shares. In Washington DC they have a nice joke about the anonymous whisperer who gets rumours going and tips winners. He's called the Great Mentioner.

The GM has often been kind to Mr Johnson for obvious reasons. I watched the health secretary make a short speech the other evening. He's effortlessly charming, although it may be time to give one excellent joke a rest. It's the one about a postman's job being good preparation for government: you empty red boxes, you focus on delivery and every day you fear what's in the Mail.

My sense is that Comrade Al (a bit of a teenage Marxist) has reached a point in his career - he's 57 - where he's got to stay in a department long enough to make a clear success.

Since entering the Cabinet at work and pensions in September 2004 he's had four jobs - including trade, education and now health - which means the longest he's stayed anywhere (education) is 14 months.

So now is the time to make his mark. I'm sure he knows this, he's a sensible chap. Besides, he only has to open his daily mailbag (geddit?) to see encircling problems which the government's wider difficulties only serve to accentuate.

Ahead of Monday's ministerial statement on the new preventive cancer strategy the hostile Mail again highlighted poor UK survival rates ('no better than Slovenia') despite seven years of the NHS cancer plan. Do restrictions on sunbeds and cigarette vending machines really address the problem?

It's smart politics when a minister lets his expert take the media bow. It allowed national cancer director Professor Mike Richards to be calmly authoritative on Radio 4's Today programme.

We still don't spend more than EU allies (fellow professor 'Karol Sikora is completely wrong about this') and we are making strong progress, he insisted. Voters trust experts.

But many suspect the problems are now basically organisational - 'failures of early identification and diagnosis', as Tory spokesman Mark Simmonds put it.

No less wounding, on the same day The Guardian reported an ICM poll which showed two-thirds of us 'frightened' of being moved into a care home, although that fear apparently eases as one gets older.

Perhaps it shouldn't. The Observer's Henry Porter described on Sunday how his elderly father had to be rescued from neglect at the Worcester Royal Infirmary to get his suspected pneumonia confirmed and treated at a private hospital.

Yes, I know the facts are sometimes disputed and that ministers are always busy trying to do good but you only have to read the comments Porter's article attracted in the blogosphere to know what most MPs, even Labour loyalists, know already. So do NHS execs who can feel just as helpless.

Bloggers variously blamed too much state interference (or too much privatisation), they blamed Blair (or Thatcher), but hardly anyone denied that the elderly in particular are shamefully neglected in many hospitals. 'Always complain,' wrote an anonymous NHS consultant.

It doesn't matter whether treatment is better in Lithuania, Germany, the US or even Mexico (as one blogger reported), it's the sour public mood that matters. And it matters more than the details of who made what illegal donation to Labour coffers.

That's why the Great Mentioner is looking for alternatives to Gordon four months into his premiership. As someone who repeatedly wrote that Alan Milburn and co were wasting their time trying to find an Anyone But Gordon candidate to succeed Blair, I notice that Mr Milburn has broken cover to proclaim the lesson of Oz prime minister John Howard's defeat, which he watched close up in Sydney: 'He moved off the centre ground and got stuck in the past.'

I think Brown can still turn it round and prove he's a leader, not a Macavity cat when trouble arrives. But he must move fast. And Comrade Al must make his mark.