Amid all the confusion about what is to happen to the coalition’s controversial NHS bill, maybe the one person who actually knows is Eric Pickles.
Right now David Cameron is talking to his bunch of NHS worthies, Nick Clegg to his, Andrew Lansley to his own kitchen cabinet, while Paul Bate, Cameron’s new health adviser has his own separate set of consultees as each tries to decide what can be salvaged from the bill … not that these groups do not overlap more than somewhat.
But Eric, it appears, knows the answer. My sharp-eyed colleague Sally Gainsbury has just noticed that the local government secretary has published a draft list of bodies that will have a duty to cooperate with councils under the localism bill. The only NHS bodies listed are primary care trusts – which, under Lansley’s plans, get abolished in 2013 – and not “GP consortia”.
There are already strong rumours that “clusters” of PCTs will live to fight another day, particularly if the wish of some Liberal Democrats is granted and GP commissioning becomes voluntary. Eric seems to know they will.
A departmental spokesman hurriedly explains that the list is “just a draft” and the actual bodies when the statutory instrument comes out “will reflect the health bodies at the time”. Meanwhile, after the roasting that Ken Clarke got over rape sentencing after appearing on her show, Andrew Lansley has pulled out of an interview with Radio 5’s Victoria Derbyshire. Poor boy is in enough trouble already.