Winston Churchill once said “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” The sentiment neatly encapsulates the row between the Government and the Labour Party over the recent history of the NHS, sparked by the publication of a damning report by Sir Bruce Keogh into the serious failings at 14 NHS trusts
Keogh’s conclusion is that thousands of patients could have died unnecessarily across these trusts since 2005, yet the actions of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to address these failings – which is some cases involve putting trusts into special measures – are only part of the story being reported in the national press. The remainder, if not the majority, by the battle between the Government and the Labour Party to control the narrative and ensure it is their own versions of recent NHS history that is accepted by the public. While this report will not determine the General Election in 2015 on its own, it could play significant role in determining which party the electorate perceives to be the ‘party of the NHS’ come 2015.
The NHS is a potentially fertile electoral topic for Labour, which can point to the wholesale reorganisation of the health service under the Coalition, the costs entailed, the difficulties encountered, and the opposition of numerous patient groups, clinicians and professional bodies. It is a high ground Labour would dearly wish to hold come May 2015 – hence the Party’s efforts to lay blame for the NHS going “downhill” under the Coalition. For the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, the Keogh report offers an opportunity to fight back against Labour criticisms of its NHS reforms, and to instead challenge the legacy of Andy Burnham – the Shadow Health Secretary now, but the Secretary of State for much of the period covered by the Keogh report.
As with many battles, it is unlikely that this one will end with a clear winner or loser, but it is a reminder of the importance the NHS will play in the General Election and of the importance of being able to ‘write’ the history of the NHS come 2015.