The head of the NHS in England, Simon Stevens, is in the news this morning.
According to the Times, five million patients a month are waiting more than three weeks to see their GP. And the paper says 1,000 fewer family doctors are in post than when ministers pledged to recruit an extra 5,000 in 2015.
Mr Stevens’ plan for joined up care to keep patients out of hospital “relies on beefed-up GP surgeries offering more treatment and co-ordination locally, but despite extra money, £20,000 ‘golden hellos’ and overseas recruitment drives, numbers continue to fall”, the Times adds.
Meanwhile, Mr Stevens is said to be at loggerheads with Downing Street, the Treasury and Department of Health and Social Care about how much his long-term plan for the health service can promise to boost care.
“Negotiations have left ministers ‘fed up’ and ‘deeply irritated’ that Stevens is refusing to include explicit guarantees they believe will reassure voters that the service will improve dramatically over the next five years thanks to the extra money,” the Guardian reports.
MPs might be taking a break from the five-day Brexit debate but it doesn’t keep the saga out of the headlines, with many papers speculating as to what might happen in next week’s vote.
The Daily Telegraph says cabinet ministers have told the prime minister to come up with a new plan to get her deal through Parliament, after the chief whip admitted she would lose the vote. The paper says senior ministers gave Theresa May four options to attempt to salvage her deal but that they left Downing Street “exasperated” when she failed to commit to any of them.
In its coverage, the Sun says Mrs May could stand down if she loses the vote. It reports that Tory insiders are predicting what it calls “a media blitz” by ministers paving the way for a leadership run. Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Commons leader Andrea Leadsom have sparked speculation about a so-called “dream ticket” bid, after they invited colleagues to a joint Christmas drinks party, it adds.
On the web, Buzzfeed suggests several of the PM’s senior allies have raised the prospect of a second referendum, with voters being offered a choice between her deal, and staying in the EU. But it quotes “a source familiar with the conversations”, saying Mrs May is “vociferously opposed” to the idea. “It is the only time she loses her temper,” the source is quoted as saying.
Writing in the Guardian, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledges that a fresh referendum would be an option if the current deal fails. But he also urges MPs to back what he calls “Labour’s alternative Brexit plan”.
This, he says, would include a new, comprehensive customs union with the EU. Despite both Brussels and Downing Street insisting that Mrs May’s deal is the only one possible, Mr Corbyn argues that his plan “can be negotiated with the EU, even at this late stage”.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times says the political uncertainty surrounding Brexit is causing City traders to shy away from making bets on the pound. It quotes a banker saying that sterling is impossible to trade at the moment, because of the multiple permutations of Brexit.
‘Duping the vulnerable’
The Daily Mail and Daily Express are united in their condemnation of Mike Betts, who’s chief executive of the Motability car scheme for people with disabilities.
Mr Betts is to step down after the National Audit Office found that customers had been overcharged £390m by mistake, while the scheme amassed more than £1bn in unplanned profits since 2008.
The Mail’s leader column describes Mr Betts’s decision to step down as “a great victory for disabled people”. It also urges ministers to review Motability’s tax breaks, which are worth hundreds of millions of pounds and says they should take steps to end the firm’s monopoly.
Under the headline “duping the vulnerable”, the opinion column in the Express wonders whether any other organisations are guilty of similar practices.
Punks and pawns
The Manchester Evening News website has extensive coverage of the death of Buzzcocks singer, Pete Shelley.
Among the tributes, Peter Hook of New Order describes him as a “true gent”, saying: “Without Pete and the Buzzcocks I would probably still be working at the docks.”
The paper says that as well as being a pioneer of punk, Pete Shelley more or less invented the concept of the indie label.
Meanwhile, the Times reports on a revolution in chess strategy. It explains that – up until now – computers that play chess have been programmed to adopt strategies developed by humans over the 1,400 years since the game was invented.
A British artificial intelligence company, Deepmind, has created a program enabling the computer to develop its own strategies, starting with random moves.
It’s gone on to beat all human and computerised challengers, and create strategies that haven’t been seen before.
One chess champion tells the paper: “It doesn’t happen often in life that something is more amazing than you could have dreamt.”