27 March 2012 2:33 PM

Pensioner killed by national strike?

A shocking report out today reveals how an 83-year-old man died in pain after waiting more than three hours for an ambulance during the nationwide strike last year.

Five 999 calls were made in a desperate plea to get help for the pensioner who fell at his home at 9.30am in north east London, on November 30.

A relative called 999 at around 12.30pm but medics only arrived shortly before 4pm.

Ambulance chiefs have apologised for the delay.

They say that the man may, sadly, have died anyway but a separate report, by NHS London, found that the death had been “potentially linked” to the delayed response.

Many other patients in the capital also suffered pain as they waited for ambulances on the strike day, according to the second report.

It also list a series of union and management blunders which contributed to the long delays.

Full story:

Nicholas Cecil



13 March 2012 1:09 PM

Lib-Dem: Tories won't be trusted on NHS

Another day, another bid to de-rail the Government's NHS reforms. But this one is gathering some significance, and could see Lib-Dems joining forces with Labour to vote against the Health and Social Care Bill.

Five Lib-Dem backbenchers have tabled an amendment to a Labour backbench opposition day motion, which "declines to support the Bill in its current form".

Labour sources understand that in a rare move, it will be selected for debate by Speaker John Bercow and that Ed Miliband's troops are happy to back it.

The full amendment calls for an "urgent summit" between ministers and Royal Colleges, professional and patient groups to plan health reforms "based on the Coalition agreement" - which pledges to stop top-down reorganisations.

One of the rebels, Bradford East MP David Ward, said the move was needed because a string of concessions secured by Lib-Dem peers in the Lords had failed to quell opposition because they had been accepted by the Tories.

“The situation we find ourselves in - and I’m not sure there is an awful lot we can do about it  - is we are in coalition with a party that people will never, ever trust on the NHS and that is a huge problem,” he told the Standard.

“The view from the public is that if the colleges are against it then there must be something wrong.”

John Pugh, chair of the Lib-Dem backbench health committee, said the move and a letter from Royal College of GPs chair Clare Gerada offered a chance for a U-turn.

“Overshadowing this is the Prime Minister’s desire not to look weak and you can read the Gerada letter as an attempt to give the PM room to manoeuvre,” he said.

“There are few enthusiasts for this legislation and thought needs to be given to showing the Government a way out of what must be an agonising dilemma.”

One senior Lib-Dem source dismissed this as posturing by the "awkward squad", while another hailed more than 1,000 amendments secured by the party's peers on the Bill.

For their part, Downing Street rejected talk of a U-turn. “We are fully committed to the Health and Social Care Bill which is about improving the NHS while protecting its founding principles,” a spokesman said.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

14 February 2012 2:34 PM

A broken-hearted Coalition?

Kudos to Unison, seizing on Valentine's Day to keep up pressure on the Government over Andrew Lansley's controversial NHS changes.

The union put on a picture stunt earlier on, with 'David Cameron' and 'Nick Clegg' holding a broken heart.

Unison's "heartfelt" plea was "not to break our hearts by breaking our NHS".

But with the Commons in recess, senior Coalition figures may be wondering if the love has dropped out of their relationship.

Not only was Lib-Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes calling for Lansley's head on Sunday, but the welfare reforms are back in the Lords and expected to suffer fresh defeats (ping pong has started). Also in the mix are Budget discussions, with the Chancellor preparing his set piece for next month.

On that note, James Forsyth had a great titbit in the Mail on Sunday - the Quad of Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and Cameron were due to have a meeting tonight after unexpectedly finding their diaries clear. But there was an obvious reason, and once wives found out some quick rescheduling took place.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

24 November 2011 2:32 PM

Lansley suffers fresh blow in NHS secrecy battle

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley is currently refusing to hand over to The Standard a secret report on the risks of his landmark NHS reforms despite being told to do so by the Information Commissioner.

The Cabinet minister has until early December to decide whether to appeal against the Commissioner's ruling that the public and Parliament should be able to see his department's risk register for the controversial changes that he is proposing.

One of the arguments for non-discloure that his officials have used is that publication of risk registers could interfer in Whitehall policy making.

The Commissioner felt that the public interest in publication still outweigh this concern.

Now, it has also emerged that NHS London publishes a risk register for health services in the capital on its website quarterly including how they could be affected by the Government's reforms.

It takes some finding but this openness still appears to contrast markedly with the apparent culture of secrecy at the Department of Health and other ministries.

NHS London's frankness can only add to the case for publication. The public, MPs and peers have a right to know.

Nicholas Cecil


11 November 2011 1:09 PM

Lansley told: publish secret NHS dangers report

The ferocious debate about Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms is about to get a lot hotter.

The Standard has won a freedom of information battle forcing the Health Secretary to hand over a secret report on the risks he is taking with the NHS with his landmark reshaping of the health service.

It is expected to lay out the risks to patient safety, finances and the very workings of the NHS as GPs are giving huge new power over the £60 billion budget to commission services.

The Department of Health has fought for nearly a year to keep the strategic risk register on the NHS reforms concealed. One can only wonder why....

But the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has ruled in The Standard's favour and told Mr Lansley to publish the report.

Labour's former health spokesman John Healey, who put in a similar FOI request for the risk documents which was also upheld by the Information Commissioner's Office, says: "The year-long cover-up is a disgrace, especially when doctors, nurses, patients groups and the public are all so worried about the Tories' NHS plans."

The Department of Health is considering the ruling. It is also understood there is a policy across Whitehall not to release these strategic risk registers.

Nicholas Cecil





17 October 2011 2:12 PM

War On Obesity: Turf Kids Out Of Buggies

Strapping your three-year-old into his buggy before heading down the shops? Well think again.....

Official advice from town hall chiefs is now to make him walk, at least sometimes, to save him from a life of obesity.

"We have to acknowledge childhood obesity is a growing problem," Nickie Aiken, Westminster council's cabinet member for children, tells The Standard.

"While local authorities have a part to play it is ultimately the responsibility of parents and carers. By taking steps such as encouraging children to walk to school, to eat healthily, or stop using buggies on short trips at the age of three, they can help ensure their children lead an active life."

Public health minister Anne Milton backs the idea, saying, "Encouraging children to walk is one way of getting the whole family to take more exercise."

They are not suggesting an outright ban on buggies, especially for parents in a hurry.

But they want adults to do more for their young children's weight including ditching the buggy if possible.

Nicholas Cecil



12 October 2011 3:26 PM

Get Off The Tube!

Londoners should get off The Tube and walk to work to shed pounds - so says public health minister Anne Milton.

The fitness fan MP wants commuters to get to work more on their own feet to fight the flab.

"The idea is to get off the bus or the Tube a couple of stops early and walk," she tells the Standard.

"You can build up slowly, 10 minutes at a time, until you are getting your 150 active minutes a week rather than taking the Tube or the bus."

The former nurse also dislikes the term obesity epidemic because it can lead people to believe that they are just the innocent victim of a nationwide phenomenon.

"Londoners need to take responsibility," she says.

"This is not something that happens to people, it's something they are involved in. They have the solution at their feet."

Nicholas Cecil


27 June 2011 12:27 PM

Clarke probes "dirty secret"

If your car insurance is on the rise, one reason could be the "outrageous racket" of insurance firms, police, local garages and even hospitals selling details of crash victims to ambulance-chasing lawyers.

Former Justice Secretary Jack Straw exposed this "dirty secret" of the insurance industry today.

Insurance firms are said to get referral payments of £200 to £1,000 a case to pass on details to claims-management companies who encourage people to make claims.

The cost of personal injury claims, including many for whiplash which is difficult to prove or disprove, has soared from £7 billion to £14 billion in a decade. This comes as the number of accidents has fallen and cars have got safer - make your own judgement whether these claims will all have been genuine or some scams.

Insurance chiefs admit that they do take referral payments and justify this by saying if they don't, other people will, and that they are not making a profit from the practice while having to meet some of the costs of the claims.

This argument does not wash with Mr Straw who says he would have banned the referral payments when he was Justice Secretary if he had known about them.

Now his successor Ken Clarke is considering doing just that.

"We are considering the matter of referral fees alongside our proposals for radical reform of the whole "no win no fee" system announced earlier this year," said a Ministry of Justice spokesman.
"Those proposals are aimed at tackling the high costs of success fees and insurance premiums in no win no fee cases. We want to strike a better balance between the interests of claimants and defendants to maintain access to civil justice while ensuring costs are proportionate, sustainable and affordable."

Nicholas Cecil 




Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is considering banning referral payments

14 June 2011 9:07 AM


A Tory MP met someone well placed in the Cameron machine who told him privately that there were two reasons for the multiple climbdowns on the NHS reforms.

His source said the first reason was that the Health and Social Care Bill was in real danger of failing to get through the Lords, where Lib Dem peers were waiting in ambush.

The second alleged reason was more controversial.  "We have to give the Lib Dems more concessions so that they do not block the new boundary changes."

Ouch! That is a far cry from David Cameron's assurance to Tory MPs yesterday (and in the Mail article today) that he just wanted to improve a Bill because "some of the details were wrong".

If the well-places source is right then there is some pretty tough horse-trading going on.  If the source is wrong, it still suggests that Tory-Lib Dem relations are entering an ice age.

My Tory MP chum is furious.  "Knowing the Lib Dems as we now do, it is highly likely they will screw us over on the boundary changes, even though we have given them so many concessions on the health service," he charges.

The boundary changes - making seats the same size and cutting the number of MPs to 600 - might be worth a dozen or more seats to the Tories (although a recent study said such gains were a pipedream).  Although the boundary shake-up was in the Coalition Agreement, there has to be a parliamentary vote in 2013 to approve the new map which will be drawn up over the next two years.  It is not hard to imagine a last-minute bit of bargaining for it to go through.


Joe Murphy

09 June 2011 9:00 AM

Tony Blair steps into the health reform debate

Anything Tony Blair writes is required reading.  Today comes the paperback edition of his memoirs. The chapters are exactly the same but there's a new 46-page introduction to lure you into spending £9.99 on an extra copy. 

He keeps out of mere domestic policies mostlty but there's a striking passage that goes to the very heart of the biggest battles going on British politics right now:  The future of the health service.

No-one will be surprised to learn that Blair sounds a lot more radical and daring than the currrent Labour leadership. 

He has no hesitation in saying that while a universal healthcare system like the NHS is best for fair and free access, the US-style privately funded system has the benefits of  "quality of service" and adaptability to patients' wishes.

"The question is: can you devise a system that combines the two?" he goes on.

"In any universal system, the key to change is to introduce centres of competition, to give patients choice and to have measures of accountability that are transparent, with information freely available. 

"Whatever process of commisioning is used, it will only work effectively if patients have power and providers are diverse.
"This is the only way also to encourage the system to self-reform, which is vital in circumstances where medical tenchnology is routinely changing the nature and extent of treatment and care . . ."
In no way is any of this an endorsement of the Tories' NHS reforms but his words are strikingly closer to the rhetoric of David "Heir to Blair" Cameron than of Ed "Son of Gordon" Miliband.

As PM, Blair regularly upset vested interests and Labour traditionalists by trying to smuggle in extra patient choice, through Foundation Trusts and independent sector treatment centres. He was continually being held back by anti-reformers, including his former Chancellor. 
Nowadays, he can say what he likes and need not care who he upsets but, of course, lacks the power to act. 
Joe Murphy


26 May 2011 5:40 PM

Clegg gets muscular

Clegg has gone for it on the NHS Bill in his speech today (full text here).

I don't mean the blood-curdling passage about "dog-eat-dog competition". That sounds fierce but in fact he doesn't actually claim that the Bill would cause such a phenomenon.

The more significant bits are him slowing everything down. He criticises "arbitrary deadlines" and talks of phasing in the introduction of choice. "We're going to tread carefully," he says.

The most significant move of all is not actually in the speech but came out of the Q&A afterwards. He said the Bill would have to go back into the committee stage, which implies many weeks of delays, to get the detail right. 

My understanding is that Andrew Lansley signed off the speech beforehand but was not expecting this little hand grenade. 

Taken together, the Clegg words do not attack the principles of the Bill (he explicitly backs chouice where it will help patients) but are a flat rejection of the way Lansley has rushed everything out.  I suspect that David Cameron, who also approved the speech, would agree with a lot of it. Certainly, there are many around No 10 who think the NHS Bill is so fraught with political risk that they would be glad to see it long-grassed.

Over to you, Health Secretary

Joe Murphy


25 May 2011 12:03 PM

Shameless or genius?

The award for most creative use of Barack Obama's trip to Britain must surely go to Labour's Tom Blenkinsop.

The Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP has tabled an Early Day Motion entitled "President Obama's state visit 2011".

It begins by extending the "hand of friendship", but peer a little closer and it looks rather like a cunningly-veiled attack on the Coalition's proposed NHS reforms.

How could they possibly be related? Well, by praising Obama's own (equally controversial) health reforms in the States.

The EDM says the reforms support Americans by "limiting competition" and give the state a "greater role". It also pays tribute to Obama's "wisdom in asserting that an unconstrained free market in healthcare benefits few but profit-seeking companies".

Sound familiar? It will to Lansley and Co in charge of the listening exercise.

It has attracted 14 signatures, including 10 Labour, and two from Northern Ireland. Lib-Dem Bob Russell and Tory Peter Bottomley have also signed up.

Here's the full text:

That this House happily extends a hand of friendship to President Obama and the American people on his first state visit to the UK; wishes to take this opportunity to warmly acknowledge his exceptional, steadfast and morally-fuelled determination in achieving healthcare reform in the US, which supports the needs of the American people by limiting competition, providing greater access to services and promoting greater quality of care; believes that President Obama's valiant move to give the state a greater role in the provision of healthcare is the single biggest domestic change his country has seen and that it will significantly change Americans' lives for the better; acknowledges his wisdom in asserting that an unconstrained free market in healthcare benefits few but profit-seeking companies; and hopes that he will enjoy his stay in the UK, a country which values the continued strong, cultural, historical and economic links with the US.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

19 May 2011 7:25 AM

Boris jumps in

You have to hand it to Boris Johnson. His timing is perfect.  Just as NHS London (our strategic overview body) faces abolition, the Mayor is setting up his own health talk shop to do public health strategy for the capital.

Boris plans to chair a new public health board that will include seats for borough council leaders and NHS professionals.

The news of his involvement comes from an interview with Understanding Society, the journal of the Ipsos MORI polling organisation. “I think there is a great opportunity  for us to a lot more strategic work with public health,” the Mayor told Ipsos MORI's Ashish Prashar. “There should be a London-wide public health board and we are working on it.”

Boris's Board can't replace the clinical care function of NHS London, which oversees the 131 PCTs and 1,500 GP practices. But it can replace its public health campaign functions.

But unless the reforms are changed, it will be the only London-wide body that brings together elected political leaders and NHS professionals around one table, which is surely a good thing.

Joe Murphy

10 May 2011 3:54 PM

Hunt's Cable gag

Jeremy Hunt's speech to the press gallery contained some excellent jokes - mostly at himself, but this one stood out.

The Culture Secretary said he had been handling both the privacy debate and the Daily Telegraph PCC ruling this morning.

"One was about two women paid to go into a room to tie an older man in knots," he said.

"And the other was about Max Mosley."

Hunt also made fun of those who claim he is in the pockets of the Murdochs, saying that with James Murdoch being in New York he had had to keep an eye of the time difference when timing his speech.

On his Chinese wife, he added: "She is not related to Rupert Murdoch's wife - but I thought it might help anyway!"

Hunt's was a classy performance: disarming, amusing but confident. He did not run away from any of the questions and he took the super-injunctions story on a notch. A lot of pol eds turned out to hear him, a sign that he is attracting interest.

Joe Murphy



09 May 2011 2:36 PM

Lunchtime List

Welcome to the Lunchtime List, ESP's round-up of the political stories in today's Evening Standard first edition.

Boris in slanging match over Tube
Boris Johnson was today involved in a furious row with government ministers over his handling of the union that is threatening the longest series of Tube strikes ever.

Culture minister 'lined up for health job'
Jeremy Hunt could be made Health Secretary if Andrew Lansley refuses to make major concessions to his NHS reforms, the Standard has learned.

Now British taxpayers face call to bail out the Greek economy
European Commission officials are holding talks this week that could lead to British taxpayers helping to bail out the Greek economy.

Defiance of 'chattering classes' as London gave a resounding No to AV
Londoners defied predictions of a dismal turnout in the AV referendum to reject overwhelmingly changing the Westminster voting system, analysis showed today.

MPs demand debate on shake-up of their expenses
David Cameron is facing fresh demands to overhaul the new MPs' expenses system.

Today's Evening Standard leaders

John Redwood v Norman Lamb
Ground: Westminster
Kick off: 8am
Coalition tensions were growing today as the Liberal Democrats slug it out with the Tories over coalition policy. Thatcherite Redwood urged David Cameron not to hand goodies to the Lib Dems as a consolation prize for the election drubbing and losing the AV vote. with his forensic brain, he pointed out that the Libs had themselves proposed many of the NHS reforms being championed by Andrew Lansley. Mr Lamb, Nick Clegg’s righthand man, was less confrontational but made clear major concessions on the health reforms would be needed if it is not all to end in a car crash.
Score: Redwood 1 Lamb 1

06 May 2011 11:44 AM

Salt in the wounds

Following the, erm, 'difficult' poll results for the Lib-Dems, Coalition leaders were probably hoping for an easy start to next week.

Unfortunately for them the Parliamentary calendar has other ideas.

Monday in the Commons is an "Opposition Day", giving Labour free rein over what gets debated. And with wicked timing Ed Miliband has plumped for "The future of the NHS".

It's bound to reopen the internal tensions over Andrew Lansley's controversial health service shake-up - currently the subject of a "listening exercise". Yesterday Joe blogged on signals the reforms could be watered down severely in what would be painted as a "win" for Nick Clegg and his party after their bruising night at the ballot box (and probable defeat on AV).

Even if ministers really are in listening mode, they won't want to hear Miliband and shadow health secretary John Healey calling on them to make "fundamental changes" and describing the market-based approach as "damaging and unjustified" - particularly if echoed from their own back benches.

I'm sure they also won't want to hear Tory MPs, buoyed by their party's relative electoral success, arguing the Lib-Dems shouldn't be handed wooden spoon goodies just because they haemorrhaged support on the doorsteps.

Following the results, Labour are also bound to press their line that the Government has no mandate for the NHS reforms because they weren't in party manifestos or the Coalition agreement and have no public support.

It's a wonderfully fortunate piece of timing.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse