ANDY BURNHAM last night ruled out tough new measures to stop Merseysiders smoking and drinking to excess.
The new health secretary described measures such as stricter restrictions on cigarette sales and on cut-price alcohol as “finger-wagging” which could easily backfire.
Halle-pigging-lujah! Is this an epiphany? Have the knuckle-headed nannies of the Labour front bench finally noticed that their hectoring is a bona fide vote-loser?
Nothing of the sort, unfortunately. It's merely a covert way of saying that times are going to be hard for the NHS and savings have to be made somewhere. It looks like Alan Maryon-Davies's fears have been realised quicker than he anticipated.
My worry is that, if history is anything to go by, the first things for the chop will be preventive programmes such as stop smoking services, healthy eating initiatives, physical activity promotion, alcohol education projects, mental health work and safe sex drives.
These are all 'soft targets' for the axe-swingers.
Burnham is simply sharpening the blade and chalking his fingers for a better grip.
It won't be for long, though. Cuts have to be made in the NHS, contrary to Gordon Brown's delusional wibblings, and what better than services which no-one will miss, for the simple reason that very few actually volunteer for them, as opposed to being coerced by GPs keen on the accompanying incentive payments.
There is also the potential electoral advantage to Labour that some may take this as a change of heart, when it is nothing of the sort. The ultimate goal is still to keep NHS budgets high whilst simultaneously stopping us, by force if necessary, from using the services for which we have paid.
In fact, Lord Darzi, in his report on the future of the NHS, called not for a reduction of what Burnham rightly terms 'finger-wagging', but for a dramatic increase.
One of the mantras of the Next Stage Review was our desire to be seen as much as a wellness service as a sickness service. In other words, not as somewhere to go when you are ill but as a service to help people get, and stay, healthy. ‘Prevention is better than cure’ is an old saying but still holds true; we must dramatically increase our efforts in this area. For the NHS, long-term conditions will be perhaps the greatest medical challenge of the decade to come. They already account for over 60 per cent of the overall disease burden and most are driven by entirely preventable lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive drinking and obesity.
To reference an old joke about experiences in hell, think of this as a short relaxing tea break, in a swimming pool full of shit, before Labour order us to resume doing handstands.