This morning’s news bulletins widely covered the requirement, effective from today, that NHS providers in England must ensure that patients for non-urgent treatment are eligible for free care; and take up-front payments if not.
There’s an obvious argument about the significance of this that goes well beyond appeasing a wholly bogus narrative about so-called “health tourists” imposing a burden on the NHS; that it’s about getting payment systems into all NHS hospitals, and establishing process for billing and paying for NHS care.
So, given the way in which this implementation appears to conflict profoundly with the principles of an NHS free at the point of use, you would expect that the party of Aneurin Bevan might have something useful to say about it. However, on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, we were told that the Labour Party was unable to field a spokesman.
Why? Isn’t this absolutely a key issue for Labour? I may be cyncial, but two explanations come to mind. The first is organisational — the fact that the Labour Party is reputedly incapable of providing a rapid press response. The second, more cynical, explanation is that for all the Corbynista noise, the Labour Party remains running scared of standing up against tabloid narratives on immigration and scrounging.
Neither is particularly edifying. But the point, surely, is that if Labour is serious about winning an election that may or may not come in the near future, it has to have something to say on key issues like the NHS. Or, to put it another way, if you want to win the game you have to turn up. If Labour is serious, it has to do a lot better than this.