A welcome admission on the NHS (if somewhat overdue)

Share

Trying to reform the National Health Service is the most daunting challenge that any government can face. The good news is that Tony Blair seems finally ready to acknowledge that self-evident truth.

Trying to reform the National Health Service is the most daunting challenge that any government can face. The good news is that Tony Blair seems finally ready to acknowledge that self-evident truth.

Downing Street must steer a perilous course between a political Scylla and Charybdis: neglecting the pressing financial needs of the NHS on the one hand, and the need for structural change on the other. Importantly, the Prime Minister's address to the Royal College of Surgeons did not seek to suggest that Labour has found a panacea for all the NHS's woes.

Mr Blair's admission that "we probably underestimated the scale and depth of some of the problems" on arrival in office in 1997 is welcome, if woefully overdue. His party had plenty of time to examine the many problems of the NHS during the long years in the opposition wilderness. It did not need to wait for three years in office before revealing its plans for change.

But what counts now is the meat. Mr Blair is not giving up on the NHS; the principle behind it remains as correct today as it was half a century ago. He was right to be immovable yesterday on the thorny question of tax breaks for the private sector. The £700m cost would, in his phrase, be "a deadweight cost", weighing the whole NHS down. Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, has played an important part as the architect of these reforms. But Mr Blair's involvement is more than just cosmetic. The problem may be that, although Mr Blair talked about the need to ask "fundamental questions", those questions are not yet fundamental enough.

In looking to the longer term, it is unclear whether state funding will be sufficient; other sources of income will have to be found, and we should look to Europe for answers.

For now, however, the dampening of expectations ("We cannot conjure up out of nowhere the extra heart and cancer specialists we need") is right: people will be angry if they are disillusioned once again by a failure to deliver change. This has been a hard lesson for New Labour to have learnt, but it seems that the party has finally taken it to heart.

Mr Blair was warmly applauded by his audience yesterday. But the customers of the NHS - in other words, the entire nation - will no doubt be more critical before joining in the applause. There is little doubt, however, that this Government is trying hard, and matching its efforts with billions of pounds of new cash. This much, at least, is welcome.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Marine / Shipping Solicitor - South Coast

Highly Competitive Package: Austen Lloyd: SOUTH COAST - MARINE / SHIPPING Th...

SAP GRC Architect

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently looking for a PERMANENT S...

BI Develop/Analyst - £35,000 ~ £40,000 - Sheffield

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Supply Teachers Would you ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Are we politely looking the other way when it comes to Kate, the ever-shrinking Duchess?

Grace Dent
 

The daily catch-up: art of the unapology, a bet on UKIP and printer ink molecules

John Rentoul
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game