Cameron exploits his disabled son, says Hewitt

Health Secretary accuses Tory leader of entering 'dangerous territory' by revealing his family's experiences with the NHS
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Patricia Hewitt has delivered a stinging rebuke to David Cameron for using his disabled son to make political capital out of the NHS.

The Secretary of State for Health warned the new Tory leader he had entered "dangerous territory" with his references to his three-year-old son Ivan, who has cerebral palsy, in a key speech last week.

Mr Cameron claimed he "spent more time in NHS hospitals than any politician" apart from those who are doctors as he stressed his personal commitment to the health service.

But in an interview with The Independent on Sunday Ms Hewitt reminded Mr Cameron that other MPs - including Chancellor Gordon Brown - had intensely personal experiences of the health service.

"Of course he's got deep personal experience of the NHS because of his child but it's dangerous territory, I think, for politicians to be talking too much about their own family experience," Ms Hewitt said.

"There are many members of the House of Commons who have very extensive personal experience of the NHS - the Chancellor, for one."

Privately, ministers contrast Mr Brown's "dignified" behaviour following the death of his daughter Jennifer with Mr Cameron's repeated references to his son.

Ms Hewitt also attacks the new Conservative leader for failing to back the smoking ban in public places despite insisting last week that the "Government should play a leadership role when it comes to public health".

Ms Hewitt said: "He talks about the Government needing to take the lead on matters of public health and yet, apparently, he is not himself in favour of the ban on smoking.

The minister was talking at the start of a month that will see the unveiling of the latest health reforms in a White Paper. Ms Hewitt is to present an outline of the plans to the Cabinet on Thursday.

She hinted at a huge expansion of counsellors and therapists who will take the place of Prozac and other anti-depressant medication.

"There should be much better support for people with anxiety, depression, moderate mental illness. I really feel that not enough attention is paid to it because of the stigma attached and that the range of therapies available is far too limited.

"The typical response, people feel, is for GPs to prescribe Prozac or something of the kind or really not do much else. What people are saying is that they want someone to listen, someone to talk to."

The new reforms will hand power over regional health budgets to local people as resources switch from hospital care to prevention.

"People are telling us they want much more emphasis on prevention and health promotion. We need to get much smarter in engaging people locally in that dialogue."

Two policies that had been promised now appear to have been dropped or watered down, however. So-called health MoTs will be offered to only high-risk groups such as smokers and people who are obese, and patients will not, as initially promised, be able to register with more than one GP practice.

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