Ever since its creation in 1948 the National Health Service has been the untouchable national institution, staffed by nurses universally viewed as "angels" and virtually immune from serious criticism.

Politicians, particularly Tory ones, messed with the NHS at their peril. Politically, Labour "owned" the health service.

The fall from grace has been gradual and shocking and prompted by scandals of patient neglect and abuse such as those revealed at Mid Staffs Hospital between 2005 and 2008.

But others followed and over a decade, the national treasure has become tarnished and criticism widespread.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has now responded to the inquiry into Mid Staffs, which not only detailed the abuse but also uncovered far more widespread cultural and management failings in the NHS, by stating: "Cruelty became normal in our NHS and nobody noticed".

He announced a series of reforms, including new complaints procedures, a legal duty of candour to be open and honest about mistakes, a criminal offence of wilful neglect to hold staff to account and moves to force hospitals to publish monthly statistics showing the numbers of nurses on individual wards on a new NHS Safety website, although he did not set a binding patient-staff ratio.

Many of the measures were welcomed by Labour but shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the government had allowed nursing numbers to fall and needed a major boost to staff numbers and he rejected the notion cruelty had become widespread.

But there are wider political sides to the current positioning on the NHS which prime Minister David Cameron has always insisted was one of his key concerns.

After the government's controversial root-and-branch reforms under Hunt's predecessor, Andrew Lansley, the current health secretary has re-defined his own role in a way which speaks volumes about the way the NHS is now being handled.

Instead of seeing himself as the ultimate manager of the service, he wants to be the voice of patients, ensuring the NHS serves its customers well. While that may deliberately leave open the question of where the buck finally stops in future scandals if not with the minister, it is a political move designed to put the government on the side of voters.

Meanwhile, the traditional assumption that the NHS was Labour's issue has started to crumble. Ed Miliband focussed on the service in his last Question Time clash with Cameron and failed to win it. His use of the old slogan "you can't trust the Tories with the NHS" did not secure him an automatic victory, which will have worried party strategists.

Burnham is also seen as a weak point by the Tories as he was health secretary under the last government and has faced claims he was responsible for many of the failings.

He won a small victory over Hunt after he threatened to sue him for libel after the health secretary accused him of covering up scandals. But that did not stop Hunt suggesting in the Commons that he had "put pressure on regulators to tone down criticisms" of the NHS.

The upshot of all this, and the thing that will most concern Labour is that the NHS appears to be slipping from their grasp as a "given" positive.

That may all change, however, when the predicted severe winter weather hits over coming days and weeks. If that exposes weaknesses in over-stretched A&E departments and even leads to deaths, the pendulum could very easily swing back amid claims government cuts have prompted a cold weather crisis in the service.