The health secretary Jeremy Hunt has had a series of standoffs and rows with NHS leaders amid claims from senior figures in the service that he is an interfering "control freak" who is trying to manipulate it for political purposes.
Senior NHS figures have told the Guardian privately of their fears that Hunt has torn up the coalition's pledges to "liberate" the NHS from political control and make it operationally independent.
At noon on Mondays, Jeremy Hunt's office on the fourth floor of the Department of Health's Whitehall headquarters fills up. Always hosted by the health secretary himself, the midday meeting focuses on what the department calls "NHS delivery" that is, how the NHS is performing its vital role.
There are usually 25-30 in Hunt's room, with a few having to stand because there is not enough space around the table. Top brass from the three key NHS bodies charged with overseeing the health service are always present. There's also one or more of Hunt's ministerial team: Earl Howe is a regular while Norman Lamb and Dr Daniel Poulter are semi-regulars, along with Hunt's permanent secretary, Una O'Brien, and sometimes the prime minister's health adviser, Nick Seddon.
Since the NHS is never out of the headlines and directly affects most of us, our theatre has long been crying out for a new play on the subject. And while Stella Feehily's piece, co-produced by Out of Joint and the Octagon, is unapologetic agitprop on behalf of a beleaguered service, it makes its points most effectively when it captures the mix of care and chaos you find in wards up and down the country.
At its heart lies the story of one family's experience of the health service. It starts with the widowed Nicholas being diagnosed with prostate problems and then subjected to delayed check-ups. But, unlike his snooty sister and her American surgeon-husband, Nicholas remains a passionate advocate of the NHS. When his mother, Iris, suffers an attack that turns out to be a rare case of "transient global amnesia", we get a vivid picture of life in a geriatric ward. There may be blood on the ceiling and a corpse behind a curtain, but there is total dedication from the harassed staff. Having recently had an op myself, I can vouch for the accuracy of much of what Feehily has to say: NHS medical treatment is brilliant, but administrative upheaval is putting a heavy strain on the system. Feehily leaves us in little doubt where the blame lies and makes her point in a variety of ways.
"Will he, won't he?" ponder NHS pundits plucking the petals of the privatisation daisy, as they consider the position of Simon Stevens, the incoming chief executive of NHS England, outgoing president of the global health division of the American United Health Group and former health adviser to Tony Blair.
In the red corner, "stop privatisation of the NHS" is shouted by hospital consultants on the moonlight run to their private clinics, shop stewards fearing redundancies for their members, and a crew of managers who suspect the new boss would demand productivity for their £100,000 plus salaries.
The BMA and Royal College of General Practitioners' latest poll shows that many GP practices are heading for the rocks as workload rises, morale drops and the government continues to ignore the problems stacking up in this crucial part of the NHS.
Almost all GPs said their workload was heavy all of the time, while half reported it was unmanageable or unsustainable. In real terms, this means GPs are struggling to see all the patients that are coming through their doors or don't have enough staff to provide the services the public needs.
Healthcare professionals have declared they have no confidence in the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, over his handling of the NHS.
In a survey conducted by the Guardian Healthcare Professionals Network, an emphatic 77.6% of members responded "no" when asked: "Do you have confidence in Jeremy Hunt?"
I have chronic pain. It's not usually acute but it does restrict my life. I have bought a higher chair so I can get up more easily, but there's a snag. I use my arms to push myself up, because my leg muscles are now too weak to work the way they did when I was young and fit and took my health for granted. The more I use my arms, the less I'm able to use my legs. It's a vicious circle. My new chair is great, but when I need to get up I'm faced with the unnatural phenomenon of deliberately inflicting pain on myself. You spend your life avoiding pain. Yet now I do it to myself on a daily and nightly basis.
When I lie down at night, the bed feels wonderful, but within seconds I'm shifting about to get comfortable, because, as I relax, the muscles holding my knees in a good place relax and then they start to hurt. I have tried to persuade myself that it will go away if I wait a second. How silly of course it won't. At last I'm comfortable, and then I get an itch or an ache somewhere. Luckily, I can move, even though that means going through the whole process again. But and here's the scary bit what if I couldn't move and needed someone to move me? What if that person had left the room? I would have to wait with the itch or the pain until they came back. Can you imagine that? It's hard to. I'd worry how long they would be, whether they would make it better, or if moving me would make it worse.
April Fools' Day heralds the start of the era of Simon Stevens, the NHS manager turned Milburn/Blair health adviser and co-architect of the NHS Plan who, after much soul-searching, is taking on the big job as head of NHS England after a decade working in the US with private healthcare group, UnitedHealth.
His appointment was greeted warmly within the service. He is widely seen as having accepted the post because he cherishes and understands the NHS and, by dint of his undisputed talents (knowledge, fresh thinking, determination), as the best person to keep the service sustainable in the tricky times fast unfolding. But his honeymoon will be short. A maiden speech planned for his first day in the job, in a hospital in northern England, may help identify his big ideas.
The vast majority of NHS staff want health services to be merged with social care in order to help ensure the NHS survives amid the growing pressures of ageing, tight budgets and the need to look after older people better.
Four out of five of the 1,069 respondents to the latest survey of members of the Guardian's Healthcare Network, who do a wide range of clinical and management roles in the NHS, said they backed a policy aim sometimes described as the "holy grail" of healthcare.