Health reform: A suitable case for treatment?

Surgeon during operation Image copyright Science
Image caption The NHS - a suitable case for reform?

The government say it's a "pause", a "moratorium". But it certainly looks like a "rethink".

The Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's "Plan A" for the Health Service appears to be, as Jon Sopel put it on last Sunday's Politics Show (8 May, BBC One), "dead in the water".

One of the great fascinations in politics is how apparently unconnected events can coincide to lethal effect.

Winning concessions

The government's pause for reflection over the health reforms has come at the very moment when the Liberal Democrats were duly given their expected drubbing in the council elections.

This in turn has prompted a steady procession of their MPs to pop up on the airwaves calling for their party to be more "assertive" within the government and to demonstrate that they are making a real difference.

All of which is code for for winning concessions from their Conservative partners. And the policy they all have in mind is - yes, of course - the health reforms.

The Chair of the Lib Dems in Parliament, the Solihull MP Lorely Burt, is convinced that her party is determined to press the case for a change of course, and that Mr Cameron and his colleagues are signalling their readiness to give ground.

Like so many of Mr Lansley's critics, Mrs Burt is particularly critical of the plans to give GPs control of around £60bn of the NHS budget to commission services from April 2013.

This has led to concerns that replacing the Primary Care Trusts with Commissioning Consortia of GPs will undermine the public accountability of the Health Service.

And yet even Mr Lansley's critics agree that, as the former Independent MP for Wyre Forest Dr Richard Taylor puts it, "the NHS needs to change" - though he's urging "evolution not revolution" and is especially concerned by what he sees as Mr Lansley's failure to put patient safety at the heart of his recommendations.

Daunting health questions

Charged with answering at least some of these daunting questions is the NHS Future Forum. And by some more of those uncanny political coincidences, Midlanders are placed right at the centre of the deliberations which look set to decide the shape of the NHS.

The Forum is chaired by the Birmingham GP Dr Steve Field, the immediate past president of the Council of the Royal College of GPs. (As Labour prepared for this week's Opposition Debate on Health, the Birmingham Edgbaston MP and former Health Minister Gisela Stuart tweeted to the effect that not even the estimable Dr Field would be able to save Andrew Lansley's career.)

Also on the Forum is the boss of our region's biggest and newest "superhospital", the £1/2bn QE in Birmingham. Julie Moore is officially known as the Chief Executive of the University Hospitals of Birmingham.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The West Midlands' biggest and newest 'superhospital' - the QE

She will be joining me in the Politics Show studio this week, as a kind of expert witness who I hope will help me keep the politicians honest!

Also with us will be the above-mentioned Dr Taylor. Plus two of the MPs who served on the Standing Committee on the Health and Social Care Bill - the Conservative MP for Stafford, Jeremy Lefroy, who happens to be married to a GP (coincidentally!) and the Labour MP for Walsall South, Valerie Vaz, who is a member of the Commons Health Select Committee.

Helping us to untangle what all sides in the debate agree is a very complex issue, we'll have a special report by our Health Correspondent Michele Paduano.

Michele will be filming Dr Field at the annual meeting of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, NICE, which is taking place this week in Birmingham.

And of course I hope you, too, will join us at 12 o'clock this Sunday, 15 May on BBC One, and follow us on Twitter.