Theresa May’s continuing woes over Brexit mean her flagship 10-year plan for the NHS is set to be postponed until the New Year, senior Whitehall sources have told HuffPost UK.
The major long-term strategy for the UK’s national health service is understood to be complete and ready for publication, but a planned pre-Christmas launch is receding as a possibility as the prime minister battles for her political life.
No.10 is not yet ready to formally receive and publish the report next week, as May’s time will be dominated by her Brexit deal and fears of a possible attempt at a motion of confidence in the House of Commons.
Parliament is due to take its Christmas break from Thursday, leaving a narrow window in which to launch the NHS plan, particularly as Monday will be dominated by the PM’s EU summit update and the rest of the week by reaction to it.
No formal decision has yet been taken on timing, but HuffPost UK understands that there are serious concerns that the plan would be tarnished by the Brexit row and would not get the “big bang” positive coverage May and Tory strategists had hoped for.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC in October that he would be setting out the plan “before Christmas”. The Department of Health said it still expected the plan to be published “before the end of the year”.
But a New Year launch is now deemed by some senior insiders as more likely, as part of a bid by the PM to start 2019 on the front foot, stressing the extra £20bn-a-year spending pledge for the health service as part of a wider domestic policy push.
“There just isn’t the bandwidth at the moment to do this,” one insider said.
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said: “If true, this is yet more evidence this Tory government has all but stopped being a government.
“So wrapped up in its internal civil war, it can’t even come up with a plan for the NHS as it starts what has now become a Tory annual winter crisis.
“We hear today A&Es are packed out and waiting times soaring. The government must bring its plan to parliament at once or stand aside for a Labour government which will put the interests of patients above an internal civil war.”
HuffPost UK revealed last month that the prime minister had been expected to unveil the much-anticipated plan at a hospital in Leeds, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock also pencilled in to attend.
At the time, a spokesperson for Number 10 said: “Details for the long-term plan will be announced in due course.”
Hancock told the Health Select Committee in November that both the 10-year plan and the green paper on social care would be out before Christmas.
“Our current plan is that both will be published before the end of the year,” he said.
In a Parliamentary answer last week, health minister Stephen Hammond said it was “due to be published by the end of the year”.
The Department of Health and Social Care has been focused instead on stepping up ‘no deal’ contingency planning before Christmas, in line with other Whitehall departments given £3bn in Treasury cash to make emergency preparations.