Health

Analysis: Andrew Lansley's tough 10 days

Andrew Lansley
Image caption A week has been a long time in politics for the health secretary

The last week-and-a-half has probably felt like Groundhog Day for Andrew Lansley.

No sooner has the health secretary tried to put out one fire then another one has broken out.

It started on Monday last week. After days of whispers in Westminster that his plans were in danger, he announced in the House of Commons that they were being put on hold so a "listening exercise" could be held.

By Wednesday, as he shared a platform with David Cameron and Nick Clegg at a Surrey hospital, he was being forced to defend the consultation against accusations that it was just a PR exercise.

Thursday and Friday were then dominated by the will he, won't he debate over whether he would attend the Royal College of Nursing conference in Liverpool the following week.

It was eventually announced he would, but not before negative newspaper headlines had appeared.

Significant changes

However, instead of addressing the main conference, it was agreed he would meet a smaller group of nurses away from the main hall.

The move left him open to claims from nurses that he did not have the "guts" to face the union's members en masse.

But before the conference could even begin he again found himself on the backfoot.

On Sunday, Lib Dem Norman Lamb, a close adviser of the deputy prime minister, said he would resign unless significant changes were made to the plans for the health service.

The conference opened on Monday with Mr Lamb's threat the hot topic.

Nurses piled on more pressure by holding a minute's silence to start the day in protest about the way they felt they were being treated by the government.

Already, Mr Lansley's enemies were circulating with Ed Miliband's team letting journalists know they were wanting to put the boot in.

This they did on Wednesday morning - the day he was due to visit Liverpool - when the Labour leader called for the entire overhaul to be scrapped (although once again he failed to offer an alternative vision).

Image caption One RCN official praised the health secretary for his knowledge of how the NHS works

The nurses showed no mercy either. Just hours before he arrived they overwhelmingly passed a motion of no confidence in Mr Lansley in an unprecedented move.

The day ended with the health secretary attempting to diffuse the toxic situation by apologising four times in a 90-minute meeting with 65 nurses.

It remains to be seen what the fall-out will be now.

Huge clamour

Influential organisations like the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association want significant changes to be made to the plans.

What is more, there is a sense that all is not as it should be behind the scenes with different officials briefing different things.

But despite all the frustrations of nurses - and the wider health workforce for that matter - there is not a huge clamour for the health secretary to go.

As one senior RCN official put it: "He knows more about the NHS than any previous health secretary for a long time.

"We think he has got some of his plans wrong, but that does not mean we don't want to work with him to get them right."

The RCN conference may have given him a vote of no confidence. But it was a yellow card, not a red one.

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