THERESA May will be relieved, after a shambolic start to 2018, that she was thrown a political lifeline at Prime Minister’s Questions by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the man who wants to run the country.
Despite six attempts, he failed to trouble Mrs May over the NHS winter crisis and he seemed oblivious to the fact that it was the Labour government which encouraged the private providers that he now holds in contempt.
Mr Corbyn did not even ask about reports that a world-leading hospital had considered cutting back on cycles of chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients because of a shortage of specialist staff.
Instead the ritual trading of statistics – the more pertinent questions came later on from individual backbenchers – did enable the Tory leader to offer a spirited defence of the NHS, funding levels and winter preparation plans.
Yet these exchanges at PMQs epitomised all that is wrong with politics – and, specifically, health policy. NHS funding – and the distress caused when treatment has to be cancelled as a result of ‘winter pressures’ – have bedevilled successive governments.
However, with social care specifically added to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s remit following the reshuffle, and widespread concern that the delayed discharge of elderly patients is exacerbating bed shortages, Mr Corbyn could have pressed the PM on these very points.
How does Mrs May intend to integrate NHS and social care? What objectives did she set for Mr Hunt? When will services be joined-up? Is the Government considering a 10-year funding cycle suggested by the Health Secretary before the reshuffle? Should a Royal Commission be set up? Will the Exchequer make additional funds available – or is the intention to raise local taxes?
If he’d asked productive questions like these, and then promised to work collaboratively with the Government in the national interest, it would have made it harder for Mrs May to be so dismissive of the Labour leader – and the many concerns of patients.