Feature NHS

Andrew Lansley: unlucky or incompetent?

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e6067 (Published 07 September 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6067
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist
  1. 1London, UK
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}btinternet.com

Many doctors will have been pleased by Andrew Lansley’s departure from the health department in the government reshuffle. Nigel Hawkes assesses where it went wrong for one of the best informed health secretaries and whether he will be missed

A long apprenticeship does not always lead to a happy inheritance. In politics the best example is Anthony Eden, glamour boy of the 1930s, whose decades of waiting for the top office ill prepared him for it. The same might be said—on an altogether more modest scale— of Andrew Lansley, who lost his job as England’s health secretary in David Cameron’s reshuffle. Seldom has any health secretary known more about the NHS than Lansley: he could make it his specialist subject on Mastermind. But he leaves office almost wholly unmourned. To make so many enemies in such a short time calls for a special kind of genius or bad luck on a prodigious scale.

Yet it all started well. By the time of the 2010 election, David Cameron and Andrew Lansley had successfully detoxified the Conservative brand as far as the NHS was concerned. Cameron’s experience of the care received by his young son Ivan, who had cerebral palsy and epilepsy and died aged 6 in 2009, made his declarations of support for the NHS ring true. Lansley had managed, as shadow health secretary, to rid himself of the patient passport, an idea championed by his predecessor Liam Fox that would have enabled patients to take NHS money and spend it on private treatment. His website then listed as his two proudest achievements helping to win the 1992 election and “transforming the public’s view of the Conservative Party’s support for the NHS.”

Missed signals

In opposition Lansley had tramped the health conference circuit for years and made countless speeches outlining his plans. Some …

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