TO be fair to Theresa May, she did make the correct call in her January reshuffle when the health and social care briefs were merged at the insistence of Jeremy Hunt. Policy-making needs to become far more joined-up if the extra investment made available for the NHS in its 70th anniversary year is not to be squandered.
Yet, three significant reshuffles later and with Mrs May being effectively held to ransom by her party and Northern Ireland’s DUP over Brexit, health policy is, like the rest of the country, in limbo as the Government’s negotiations with the EU become all-consuming.
It’s all the more reason to rue Mrs May’s decision to ignore this newspaper’s previous call for her to appoint a strong deputy to co-ordinate domestic policy while she focused on Brexit and foreign affairs.
For, while the Government tears itself – and the country – apart over Brexit, up to one quarter of hospitals beds in Leeds are occupied by elderly patients who cannot be discharged because of difficulties arranging, or facilitating, suitable social care in their local community.
However a combination of an ageing population – and cuts to local government spending – mean that the care sector simply cannot cope and the Government’s cash boost last night will make little difference. The consequence will be even more pressure on hospital beds and the inevitable increase in A&E patients being treated in hospital corridors this winter, a state of affairs that will be just as damaging to Mrs May’s reputation, if not more so, than Brexit.
And healthcare is not the only public service caught up in this policy vacuum – the same can also be said of education, policing and transport as essential reforms become marginalised by the Brexit battles being fought hourly by Cabinet Ministers. This is short-sighted. As the last election demonstrated, quality public services do also matter to voters and Mrs May should heed this.