At first sight, it looked like the Tory cheerleaders at the Maily Telegraph and those of a more liberal stance at the deeply subversive Guardian were tailoring their reporting of the NHS to suit their readership. But the appointment of David Prior as the head of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has turned out to give every appearance of deliberate party political partisanship.
So while the Observer carries an interview with the bloke who actually runs the NHS in England, telling readers “Sir Malcolm Grant, chairman of NHS England, has revealed his frustration at attempts by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to micro-manage Britain's health service”, and his view that “I think the way we design the structure to incentivise people is right”, the Tel is focusing elsewhere.
Hack Laura Donnelly is instead talking up Prior, whom she headlines not as leading the CQC, but in turn calls him “Head of health and social care regulator David Prior” and “The man in charge of the NHS watchdog”. This enables the Telegraph to recycle Prior’s views, which are reliably in tune with its own NHS-bashing agenda, as if they are the One True Way Forward.
So readers are told that Prior wants to “put patients first”, which gives the impression that this is somehow not done at present. And he’s right, as he has “to oversee 250 hospitals, 8,000 GP practices and 23,000 care homes”. What Malcolm Grant makes of that suggestion – that former MP Prior, whose greatest distinction was to lose his seat to Norman Lamb, is actually his boss – would be interesting to hear.
“The former Tory MP and deputy party chairman fears that A&E departments are ‘out of control’ - with the system on the brink of collapse” warns the Tel. So what does Grant think of that? “[he] also claimed to be ‘quietly confident’ that the service would cope with what is expected to be its busiest winter”. Are we talking about the same NHS here? And, as the man said, there’s more.
“There are a lot of A&E departments now that are already on black alert a lot of the time; in the end a huge amount of this will depend on the weather. All we know is that it is going to be very tight” says Prior of this Winter. Grant was more upbeat: “The ‘big uncertainty’ would arise if there was a major change in the weather, but he said the system ‘will cope’”. And he is the one in charge.
There is a good reason the Telegraph has focused on David Prior: he makes the right noises (“When you are compared to a national religion, that is the problem”), accusing the NHS of being “placed on a pedestal, beyond reproach”, and that debate over failings “was simply not tolerated”. Then Ms Donnelly calls his parliamentary seat “North Norwich”. A little too eager to write to agenda there, methinks.
Still, it’s reassuring to see NHS bashing is alive and well. No change there, then.
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