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Government ministers are here today, gone tomorrow. Most come along and try to put their own stamp on the health service, and then leave before the consequences of their actions are felt. Nursing staff are left to deliver care on behalf of organisations with new names and logos, managers are made redundant and then re-engaged, and the NHS trundles on.
On coming to office, prime minister David Cameron indicated that this time it would be different. His health secretary Andrew Lansley had spent six years researching health systems around the world, interviewing health professionals here and abroad, and consulting managers and patients. Mr Cameron announced that Mr Lansley would be health secretary for the whole of this parliament so he could personally ensure that his vision became reality.
It could not have turned out more differently. No other health secretary in modern times has been so out of touch with the professions or the public. The parliamentary progress of Mr Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill descended into farce, and the unprecedented ‘pause’ led to a raft of changes that softened the bill’s worst elements but still left the NHS facing a period of uncertainty bordering on chaos.
Last week Mr Cameron cut his losses and moved Mr Lansley on, replacing him with Jeremy Hunt, whose only background in health has been campaigns to save local hospitals. Before becoming an MP, Mr Hunt had started his own business and been a management consultant. He has tried to disassociate himself from comments he made in Direct Democracy, a book he co-wrote in 2005, in which he said the NHS was failing to meet public expectations and ‘is no longer relevant in the 21st century’.
The other health ministers in the House of Commons have all been replaced too, including former nurse Anne Milton. So there will now be no nurse holding ministerial office at the Department of Health for the first time since Ann Keen was appointed in 2007.
Contrast the English situation with that in Scotland, where the RCN seemed genuinely sorry to see Nicola Sturgeon leave her post as health secretary. Her replacement, Alex Neil, has a tougher act to follow than Mr Hunt.
Editorial | September 13 2012 | Volume 27 Number 2
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Nursing Standard is published every Wednesday by RCN Publishing Company Ltd, the publishing company of the Royal College of Nursing.
It seeks to promote professional excellence, and encourage creativity and innovation in nursing, midwifery and health visiting practice. Nursing Standard also aims to enhance nurses' and healthcare assistants' career development and to help them achieve and maintain a healthy and rewarding working environment. Nursing Standard is editorially independent and the opinions expressed are not those of the RCN or of the contributor's employing organisation unless specifically stated.