NHS

Kiran Stacey

Over lunch recently, a Labour strategist spelled out the terms of the next election in the starkest terms. “They want to fight it on welfare,” he explained. “We want to fight on the NHS.”

So despite the threat of the statistics authorities confirming that Britain has entered a triple-dip recession tomorrow, Ed Miliband chose to focus this PMQs on the NHS.

The problem was, his material is a little thin. He began by mentioning rising waiting times in A&E wards, as well as the example in Norwich of an inflatable tent being used as a makeshift ward. His first question was: Read more

NHS protests

By Sarah Neville

Comments to the FT from one of the most important figures in the NHS this morning ask the most fundamental question that can be asked about the NHS: in an era of austerity can a universal free health service survive?

Malcolm Grant, chairman of NHS England, told us that he thinks a future government will have to consider more widespread user charges in the health service unless the economy picks up.

Grant made clear that he would not support any departure from the defining principle of a free-at-the-point-of-use NHS. But that doesn’t matter – these are macro-economic decisions for government that fall beyond his remit. Read more

Tom Burgis

George Osborne

Welcome to our rolling coverage of the Autumn Statement.

George Osborne has missed his fiscal targets and cut corporation tax.

We’ll bring you all the day’s developments live. By Tom Burgis and Ben Fenton.

15.45: We’re winding up the blog now, but you can follow events as they unfold through constantly updating stories on the front page of FT.com

15.31: A representation of the “flamethrower of uncertainty” can be found in the documentation of the OBR. It is also known as a “fan chart”. I doubt George Osborne is a fan of it, though.

15.24: Chote speaks of the “flamethrower of uncertainty”- a favourite phrase, unsettlingly enough, of the OBR, which is a chart showing forecasts in a wide range that makes the chart lines look like a firebreathing dragon.

15.18: Chote says that the variation in the possible range in the forecast of net debt figures for the UK is a large number, but is “dwarfed by the scale of uncertainties” on the issuance of debt. I think that’s the second time he has said that in his address.

15.12: The Spectator is running a rather scary chart showing the lost output of the current “seven-year slump” in the UK.

15.07: Robert Chote, director of the Office for Budget Responsibility, is live now, going through his department’s figures that underpinned the bad news Mr Osborne has just had to deliver.

15.05: Gavyn Davies has blogged for the FT with his view on the autumn statement while the FT’s Lucy Warwick-Ching has collated some very interesting instant reaction from personal finance experts.

14.49: Hannah Kuchler on the FT’s UK desk has been keeping an eye on business reaction to the autumn statement.

She says:

The CBI, the employer’s organisation, urged the government to stick to its guns on deficit reduction to retain international credibility, saying it was no surprise that austerity would last longer than expected.

John Cridland, director-general, welcomed investment in infrastructure and support for exports, but said the proof was in the delivery. He said:

“Businesses need to see the Chancellor’s words translated into building sites on the ground.”

But the British Chambers of Commerce was less positive, declaring the statement not good enough for a country meant to be in a state of “economic war”.
The government is just “tinkering around the edges”, John Longworth, the BCC’s director general said, adding: “The Budget next March must make truly radical and large-scale choices that support long-term growth and wealth creation. That means reconsidering the ‘sacred cows’ of the political class, including overseas aid and the gargantuan scale of the welfare state. Only a wholesale re-prioritisation of resources, to unlock private sector finance, investment and jobs, will be enough to win the ‘economic war’ we are facing. The danger is that our political class is sleepwalking with its eyes open.”

14.40: Lionel Barber, the FT’s editor, just passed by the live news desk so we asked him what he thought of the autumn statement.

The Chancellor is in a hole, but the good news is that he’s stopped digging. The FT supports the government’s fiscal stance, but is there more to be done on monetary policy to boost growth? That’s the question.

14.26 Who says the British don’t like doing things the French way? Might we surmise from this tweet from the BBC’s Robert Peston’s interview with Danny Alexander, Osborne’s Lib Dem No2, that the UK’s crediworthiness might be going to way of its Gallic cousins’?

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/Peston/statuses/276330461142327296"]

Others are more chipper:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/MJJHunter/statuses/276330252601524225"]

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

Danny Boyle's tribute to the NHS at the Olympics opening ceremony

Danny Boyle's opening ceremony tribute to the NHS

The Times and the Independent both broke an interesting story this morning about government plans to set up a body to promote NHS expertise across the world as a way of making money for the domestic health service.

The Independent reports:

Some of Britain’s best-known hospitals are being lined up by the Government to export the “NHS brand” around the world and set up profit-making branches overseas to boost their incomes.

Under a radical plan to be launched this autumn, officials from the Department of Health and UK Trade and Investment will come together to act as a “dating agency” between hospitals that wish to expand overseas and foreign governments with a demand for British health services.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

In his second answer at prime minister’s questions today, David Cameron asked a question of Ed Miliband:

As we are being kept here to vote on the publication of the NHS risk register, why don’t you ask a question about that?

It seemed like a strange tactic. Why would the prime minister, who has been ordered by the information commissioner to publish the document detailing the potential risks of his NHS bill, want to bring up the fact that he is refusing to comply? Surely this was a subject on which Labour, not the government, holds the upper hand?

Only after the prime minister had put the challenge several times did we find out why he was so keen to talk about it.  Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Andrew Lansley meet medical professionalsToday’s report from the London School of Economics into whether competition works in the NHS is likely to be cherry-picked (to use an apt term) by both sides in their fights for and against the health bill.

Ministers will love its headline finding, that competition works in the NHS. The researchers found that after Labour introduced competition between hospitals in 2006, waiting times before operations (an internationally recognised measure of transparency) fell. Using the kind of terminology only academics can, the report’s authors found “moderate but statistically significant” reductions in patients’ length of stay. They added:

These 7 to 9 per cent gains would have produced non-trivial savings.

 Read more

Kiran Stacey

It was an interesting decision by Ed Miliband not to ask David Cameron about Fred Goodwin’s knighthood today, especially when he could have pushed the PM into the uncomfortable position of calling for other bankers to lose their titles. That possibly reflects a growing sense of unease, as voiced by Alistair Darling this morning, that one individual may have been unfairly singled out in a politically-motivated attack.

Instead, the Labour leader developed his theme of unfairness at the top of society, calling on the prime minister to implement the suggestions of the Walker review and ensure that banks have to disclose how many people they employ who earn over £1m a year.

The legislation to make this possible was passed under the last Labour government and with cross-party support, Miliband pointed out, why wouldn’t the PM enact it? Read more

Kiran Stacey

It was no surprise that Ed Miliband led on the economy today, on the day that GDP figures showed a drop in output in the last quarter of last year.

The Labour leader’s questioning was more effective than usual. He has a new line that looks like it could pay off:

He and his chancellor are the byword for smug, self-satisfied complacency.

It certainly gives us all some relief from the previous ubiquitous epithet Labour applied to the prime minister and his party of “out of touch”. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Last week, we were told that the government was going to support the Lord Mackay amendment to the health bill, which adds in a clause saying the health secretary “retains ultimate responsibility” for the health service.

This was supposed to have won the support of Baroness Williams and other rebellious Lib Dem peers who have been concerned about the fact that the bill as it stands removes the legal duty on the secretary of state to provide a health service free at the point of contact.

But today, Lord Howe, the government health minister in the Lords, asked Lord Mackay and all other peers to withdraw their amendements for further consideration. They want to reach a compromise that all sides can agree on. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Peers begin debating the NHS reform bill on Tuesday in the House of Lords. The big worry for the government is that they will vote for the Owen/Hennessy amendment, which would refer the bill to a separate committee for further consultation, delaying its passage by several months.

Earl Howe, a health minister, met Lord Owen yesterday as they tried to bash out a compromise, but the talks failed and Lords Owen and Hennessy tabled their amendment as planned, with one minor tweak: that the new committee should report by December 19, rather than next February.

The government is not taking this lightly. Earl Howe sent a letter to peers just 20 minutes before today’s debate started. The letter shows just how concerned minister are about the prospect of such a delay. Here are the key passages: Read more

Kiran Stacey

While everyone in Westminster has their eyes glued to the Commons today, waiting for Liam Fox to answer questions about his links with Adam Werrity, there is some real old-school politics going on just down the corridor.

All day, peers have been locked in a series of meetings with whips and advisers from all three parties bending their ear on the health bill, which enters the Lords on Tuesday. Read more

Nicholas Timmins

Monitor, the current foundation trust regulator and, under the government’s NHS plans, soon to be the health service’s new economic regulator as well, has scrapped, at least for now, its plan to appoint a new chief executive.

The move demonstrates the profound uncertainty that still haunts Andrew Lansley’s reforms, despite the end of  the famous “pause”.

Shirley Williams, the Lib Dem peer, has made clear that her party in the Lord still intends to try to amend the bill, whatever deal has been done in the Commons. The large medical mafia in the Lords and Labour will doubtless seek to do the same. Read more