Focus: Policy and Politics - Cameron 'disappoints' on healthcare

Nathalie Thomas

The Tory leader has omitted public health from a list of 'key areas'.

Health charities have reacted with disappointment to David Cameron's decision not to include public health issues as one of the key areas he wants his party to address.

Cameron has asked his Tory colleagues to endorse eight 'values', including enhancing the environment, abolishing poverty, ensuring social justice and empowering communities.

But the absence of serious problems such as obesity and cancer from the Conservative leader's agenda has caused ripples in certain parts of the sector.

"It would be a grave mistake to forget about issues such as obesity," said David Haslam, clinical director at the National Obesity Forum. "It is a serious problem and, if treatment and prevention don't play a major role in policy and therefore don't occur, there will be an epidemic of diabetes, heart disease and early deaths."

Cameron does propose to "improve the NHS" in Built To Last, the document outlining his aims. But for some health organisations, the brief mention isn't enough.

"We are disappointed that David Cameron has not referred to cancer in any of his six big challenges," said Ian Beaumont, head of press at Bowel Cancer UK.

"We are hopeful that the Conservative Party will reaffirm its commitment to the Cancer Plan and, if it becomes the next Government, will commit more resources to cancer treatment, services and care."

Cameron's values have aroused enthusiastic support from the environment lobby, because he promises not to "surrender to vested interests" and to pursue long-term cross-party consensus on climate change.

"We've been pleased that the Conservatives are taking the issue very seriously," said Martin Williams, senior parliamentary officer at Friends of the Earth. "Cameron's really tying himself to tackling the cause."

Backing women's choices is another principle the Conservatives will adopt if party members choose to endorse Built To Last in a forthcoming vote.

The Fawcett Society has welcomed the attention, but has expressed concern about Cameron's focus on women alone.

A spokeswoman for the society said: "We are worried that politicians are talking about the work-life balance only in terms of women. It reinforces the idea that caring is for women and not men."

There is similar apprehension among poverty and international aid charities, despite Cameron's assurances that he wants to "make poverty history, fight for free and fair trade and increase international aid".

The Child Poverty Action Group urged Cameron to reveal more concrete ways of addressing the problems. "We need to see detail to back up the rhetoric," the charity said.

A spokeswoman for Oxfam said: "We welcome Cameron's interest in development and are encouraged he has identified it as one of the six key issues.

As yet, however, we haven't seen any significant pro-development policy changes."

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