In the week health ministers launched new initiatives on both cancer and stroke, backbench MP Dr Richard Taylor coincidentally staged a Commons adjournment debate on rationing in the NHS.
Hush my mouth! Did I say rationing? That is the word the independent MP for Wyre Forest wanted to use in the title of his debate. But the backstairs clerks, the Mr Bigs-in-Wigs who run so much behind the scenes, stopped him. It was not really acceptable on the front of government business papers, they said. These weird decisions happen in the best-run establishments. Never mind. 'Health care prioritisation' it became.
As you would expect from a wise old cove, Dr Taylor made a number of telling points, including his dismay at the survival of postcode lotteries in the era of the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence. Why do some primary care trusts defy its rulings?
He elicited what I'd call a bread-and-butter response from duty minister Ivan Lewis, who must have been saving his energy for this week's announcement: those long-awaited personalised care budgets for the elderly for which he has fought.
Among Taylor's points was that unpopular causes, such as the disabled, mentally ill and the elderly, often get squeezed in health budgets. He praised government efforts to address the problem of finite resources, such as the Better Care, Better Value Indicators paper. But the campaigning MP also warned of 'the power of various lobby groups' to tilt a public debate that should be more open. He seemed to hint at the Oregon model where voters in that remote US state once chose their health priorities.
Which is where cancer and strokes came to my mind. As Labour's Dr Doug Naysmith was quick to point out, such voter exercises 'tend to go for cancer and such flash subjects' leaving the usual Cinderellas behind.
So I rang a couple of smart contacts for a reality check. Labour's Ian Gibson (another 'Dr', but a university biologist by trade) was full of enthusiasm for Alan Johnson's two new initiatives, but sorry that it has taken so long to grasp that prevention is the best cure. 'Obesity is connected to cancer, lifestyle is connected to strokes and cancer. Suddenly the government's found it's the cheap option. But we need to do a lot more,' he told me.
By that he means that science now understands a lot more about the gender-bending chemicals which the farm-and-food industries use and which can harm us as much as they do mice. Government should lean on business to do better. 'An old story,' the MP admits.
Dr Gibson also wishes that Professor Roger Boyle, the government's stroke and heart czar, had as much clout as Professor Mike Richards, his counterpart in cancer. Meanwhile the Johnson plans are 'a good selling point at a bad time'.
Over to ex-No 10 health guru, Julian le Grand (another professor). He tells me he's a sceptic about the NHS cancer network concept as a means of addressing pathways to cancer treatment. It may even slow down treatment not speed it up. Jobs for the boys? There are few women cancer surgeons, he notes drily.
However le Grand also reminds me of something I'd forgotten. Namely the reason the NHS's record on heart conditions (the third of the big three killers) is so superior to that in cancer and strokes is that there is much less competition, much less pressure to see patients faster, to innovate and engage.
Stroke has always been a poor relation, he suggests. Yes, better drugs have helped would-be stroke sufferers (I will take my own pills when I finish this article), but greater public understanding and faster treatment will help. That is all part of the Johnson plan.
As for cancer, le Grand sorrowfully concedes our survival rates 'are still not good'; not as good as our EU neighbours, not as good as the US where they still diagnose sufferers so much faster despite all the extra cash spent here.
At the health select committee last week Mr Johnson (not a professor - no degree!) told MPs he has four ways to save money: better procurement; economies of scale; community-based (cheaper) services; and drug pricing. The struggle goes on.
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