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Nelson's column

ANYONE producing voodoo dolls of Daniel Hannan would quickly find a bulk order placed by Cameron HQ.
He’s a free-thinking Tory MEP who tends to say what plenty of Tories secretly think. Last week, he did it with the NHS.
A furious David Cameron has slapped him down. Why? Because health is the political debate which Cam fears most. It kicked off in America, where politicians are at war over Obama’s plans to reform America’s awful healthcare system.
Obama’s enemies have (wrongly) accused him of wanting to set up an NHS and made wild claims about its failures. But the response — a Twitter- based campaign — sounds more like a war with false propaganda spread by both sides.
Lie One: Stephen Hawking, the disabled physicist, “wouldn’t have a chance in the UK”. (As he says, the NHS saved him).
Lie Two: Sarah Palin, the moose-hunting ex-vice presidential candidate, called the NHS “evil”. (She was talking about Obama.)
Lie Three: Masses of Americans are attacking the UK. (We’re only on the radar of a few zealous campaigners.)
And if you think all this is inane, wait until the politicians wade in.
Health Secretary Andy Burnham sent a “Tweet” informing us that he loves the NHS “2nd only to Everton”. Extremely enlightening.
Gordon Brown has vowed to defy “the right wing in the United States” — a phrase he didn’t use when Bush was in power.
Cam says he takes “pride in the NHS”. I’m glad to hear it. But what would he do with it if he won the election? This is the real question. It’s precisely because our NHS is important that it deserves a sober, level-headed discussion.
Doctors and nurses have to take orders from a vast, useless bureaucracy that badly needs cutting down to size. Saying “no cuts” — as the Cameroons do — is not patriotic. It’s a kneejerk response to a debate that scares them.
The NHS is also unequal. Studies show the poorest get worse treatment — and that the gap with the richest is widening.
And for all its support in Twitterati, the NHS ranks a lowly 19th in a Europe-wide poll of patient satisfaction. International surveys show that MOST people in Britain think “fundamental change” is needed to our heath service.
Yes, Britain does love the NHS. And this is why the majority want it to change, and be recast for the 21st century.
Yet the Tories fear that any debate about “fundamental change would lead to them being labelled anti-NHS. That’s why Hannan’s intervention is so unwelcome for Cameron. He wants sweeping change — and he’s far from alone.
One in six people in Britain want to “completely rebuild the system”. I suspect most Tories do, too, but daren’t say it. Even Thatcher baulked at radical health reform, fearing that she’d be accused of trying to destroy the NHS.
Each politician has to decide how many battles they can fight. Tories have always seen the NHS as a bridge too far.
The man who did more to modernise the NHS than anyone else is Tony Blair. His reforms were limited, but powerful.
He fought the unions. Fought Gordon Brown. Fought his own party. And he yanked the genie of choice out of the bottle.
NHS patients can now compare and choose hospitals (a bit like America). They can sack their GP (like in America).
Today’s NHS slogan, “Your health, your choice” is a genuine Labour success. But never mentioned by Gordon Brown. He knows it’s Blair’s legacy. The PM hates reform more than Andrew Lansley. But what Blair did was both brave and right.
If Cam genuinely means the NHS is his “number one priority” he’ll put rocket boosters on those Blair reforms.
Because our NHS is far precious to be just left alone.



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