Stafford hospital inquiry hears from health regulator

Nick Clegg and David Cameron Image copyright bbc
Image caption The Prime Minister and his Deputy have words on NHS reform

By one of those coincidences that seem only to happen in politics, the Stafford Hospital inquiry is taking evidence this week from the independent health regulator Monitor.

Monitor's appearance in Stafford comes as the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has seized on the role of the independent health regulator as the section of the Health and Social Care Bill which needs "the most substantial changes".

His chief concern is that Monitor's principal task should be to encourage co-operation and collaboration in the NHS, and not as ministers originally proposed, to promote competition.

It's an argument that goes to the heart both of the tensions between the coalition partners and of the inquiry into the failings at a hospital where hundreds of deaths should have been avoided.

'Cure the NHS'

As the health bill's 'pause' nears its close, the former Independent Health Concern MP for Wyre Forest, Dr Richard Taylor (veteran of the campaign to save Kidderminster Hospital), is among the critics of the proposals who warn that they fail to put patient safety at the heart of the reforms.

And that, essentially, is what that more recent grouping of health campaigners, 'Cure the NHS', say went so dreadfully wrong in Stafford.

In that case, they say, the drive for NHS Foundation Trust status led the then hospital bosses to lose sight of clinical priorities.

To judge by recent heated exchanges between the Prime Minister and his Deputy, the political battle is far from over (they were seen having words while awaiting President Obama's address in Westminster Hall last week).

Political arguments

There's apparently no shortage of Conservative MPs ready to weigh-in with the argument that they should not give in to Lib Dem pressure: that Monitor's role as a promoter of competition in the NHS need not be at the expense of patient safety.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Conservative MPs plan 'red lines' around Andrew Lansley's reforms

Stand by for a collision between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats: some Tories are even talking about drawing 'red lines' around some of Andrew Lansley's measures.

That's a term often associated with the Conservative MP for Stone in Staffordshire, Bill Cash, on the subject of Europe. But would he use it in this case too?

I'll ask him on this week's Politics Show (BBC One, 12:00, Sunday 5 June 2011). Also with us will be the former Health Minister, the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, Gisela Stuart.

And of course I hope you will join us too.

BBC Stoke's Stafford reporter Chris King is covering every single day of the inquiry and you can keep up with it via his blog.