Last week a poll (pdf) by YouGov for Unison showed substantial opposition to the key aspects of the government’s health and social care bill.
It showed only 19 per cent of voters believe ‘increased competition’ will improve the NHS, while only 26% think ‘giving doctors more control over their own budgets and what they spend money on’ would make health services better, and most worrying of all for the government, the poll revealed a mere 18% of voters support the government’s health reforms.
Now a new YouGov poll (pdf) commissioned by Progressive Polling and Unite illustrates the extent of the political fallout, with the prime minister facing a notable loss of trust.
Downing Street advisors may have hoped David Cameron’s renewed support for the bill can make a difference to public support for the legislation. They are set to be disappointed.
On the issue of health reform a staggering six times as many people trust health professionals more than they do Mr Cameron and his health secretary.
When asked about the possible effects of the government’s NHS proposals, as Chart 1 shows, 60% of voters said they trusted the views of health professionals the most, 10% said David Cameron and Andrew Lansley, 16% said neither and 14% didn’t know.
What is quite remarkable is that even Conservative Party supporters say they trust NHS health professionals more than their leader and Mr Lansley on the health reforms, by 40% to 30%.
The findings show the PM’s decision to renew his support for the beleaguered bill is unlikely to help his government promote the legislation; instead, Mr Cameron’s association is already causing harm to his standing.
YouGov’s findings show voters feel David Cameron has not honoured his pre-election promises. Three times more people think he hasn’t delivered on his pre-election assurances over the NHS than those that do (59%-19%). The Labour Party has now opened up a 15-point lead over the Conservatives on health compared to eight points at the end of January (pdf).
With another YouGov poll showing voters believe the NHS is now the third biggest issue facing the country (pdf) this has the potential to do significant and enduring damage to the Conservatives should the fears of health professionals be realised.
Concern over the government’s health policies are far from a temporary phenomenon - as long ago as May 2011 Michael Ashcroft chronicled voters’ misgivings on the coalition’s health reforms.
Ashcroft’s research concluded:
“Nobody seemed to know is why the reforms were needed and how, even in theory, they were supposed to improve things for patients.”
Since then public opinion has continued to move away from the government.
With such low levels of trust in those backing the bill and high trust in those opposing it, it is little wonder that two thirds (68%) of voters now want the government to publish the Department of Health’s Risk Register. The DH is appealing against the Information Commissioner’s ruling in November 2011 to publish it. Some fear this is a delaying tactic with the intention of stalling its release until after the bill becomes law.
In a matter of days this specific issue will come to the fore. The Labour Party has initiated an Opposition Day Debate on publishing the Risk Register this Wednesday. Conservative and Lib Dem MPs should carefully consider how they vote on the matter.
With most support for the publication from Liberal Democrat supporters (80%), their party’s commitment to freedom of information will be tested by their own voters.
There is even a political case for the bill’s most ardent supporters to vote for its publication. The more there is an impression the government is determined to keep the document secret, the more voters may fear they have something to hide.
The collapse in confidence over this bill is dramatic yet strangely predictable. It is extremely hard to see how the Conservative Party can now overcome such a chasm of trust without the support of health professionals. Unless the bill is dropped it is difficult to see how this bill can be anything other than an electoral millstone weighing down the prime minister and both coalition parties.
Ten days ago Tim Montgomerie, editor of ConservativeHome, wrote:
“The unnecessary and unpopular NHS bill could cost the Conservative Party the next election. Cameron must kill it.”
Today’s poll figures suggest he is correct.
• Look Left – The fight for the soul of the NHS goes on – Shamik Das, February 17th 2012
• Sign my petition to drop Lansley’s monster – Dr Kailash Chand OBE, November 24th 2011
• Safe in Cameron’s hands? Waiting times for treatments, tests, and A&E all up – Shamik Das, September 4th 2011
• Despite the policy changes, public still don’t trust Cameron on the NHS – Shamik Das, June 14th 2011
• How Cameron is already undermining his NHS pledges – Trevor Cheeseman, June 7th 2011
• The truth behind the coalition’s NHS proposals – Jos Bell, January 25th 2011
• Experts, doctors and commentators turn on health reforms – Will Straw, January 18th 2011