Jeremy Hunt used his address to the Conservative Spring Forum this afternoon as the next step in his quest to make the Conservatives the party of the NHS, not Labour. His speech was in some ways quite formulaic: it started with good news about health care in this country, then praise for the ‘extraordinary’ staff working in the NHS. But then it moved on to his duty ‘to be honest about the failures’ of the health service too. He said:
‘If you care about something you don’t try to sweep problems under the carpet – you expose them, sort them out and make things better. And by criticising us when we do that, Labour show extraordinary complacency about the treatment suffered by some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
‘As Conservatives, our instinct is to stand up for the individual. And that applies to the NHS. We must never allow the needs of an institution to become more important than the needs of the patients it was set up to serve.
‘That’s why Andrew Lansley was so right to set up a public inquiry into what happened at Mid Staffs Hospital, something Labour refused 81 requests to do. And we should never forget what they allowed to happen on their watch.’
The theme of this speech, and the one he gave in the Chamber this week, was that Labour might talk a good game on the NHS, but it didn’t face up its failings when in office. Hunt said”
‘The party that claims to speak for the vulnerable betrayed those very same people. And they betrayed the vast majority of doctors and nurses who want nothing more than to express the innate decency and compassion that made them give their lives to the NHS in the first place.’
He contrasted what Labour didn’t do when in government, saying that ‘it is ministers who are ultimately responsible for the culture of the NHS’, with what the Conservatives are now doing to ensure a similar scandal doesn’t happen again.
Some Tory MPs will be disappointed that Hunt continues to back David Nicholson, and repeated his line that ‘others have far greater responsibility: like the board of the Trust, whose members astonishingly seem to have melted into thin air’. But it’s clear that Hunt is on a mission to be a patients’ champion, and to steal that NHS crown from Andy Burnham.Tags: Conservatives, Jeremy Hunt, NHS, UK politics