“I don’t think he’s coming back,” utters an aide as we watch the most talked-about cabinet minister of the moment move swiftly out of the room.
But she was right – he didn’t come back. Given the furore that has surrounded health secretary Andrew Lansley and his NHS reforms, it’s not surprising he’s not overly anxious to answer questions on how he is going to rescue both the situation and his credibility.
This isn’t to say that he is not at home with his portfolio: “When you see him on visits to hospitals, he’s fantastic with people one-on-one, talking about the health service. But when he’s trying to communicate more broadly, it just doesn’t work for him.”
The health select committee, chaired by former Conservative health secretary Stephen Dorrell, has not expressed outright opposition to the reforms. However, in a recent report into the impact of GP-led commissioning, the speed was one of the major reservations highlighted.
Dorrell told us that the rapidity at which the reforms have emerged has only compounded people’s fears: “Familiar fears on the NHS are re-establishing themselves – with different names on the outside. There’s a divorce between politics and policy. You must evolve a position over time.”
In fact, although we have now entered a legislative hiatus in the progress of the reforms, out in the field the implementation of the new GP consortia and public health strategy has already begun. This is a major point of pride, and a source of comfort, for Lansley, who clearly hopes to be able to refute future criticism by pointing to the success of already-existing examples of the new structure.