Thursday, 25 February 2016

That's you, that is

I am sure that I am not the only one who has been reminded of Baddiel and Newman's warring historians when witnessing the exchanges between Cameron and Corbyn at the dispatch box. Yesterday's prime minister's question time had echoes of this episode. The subject was the NHS in England:

Jeremy Corbyn: We all want a strong and successful NHS, but that will not be achieved by provoking industrial action, misrepresenting research or failing to get a grip on the cost of agency staff in the NHS, which now amounts to £4 billion. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s own local NHS trust has overspent on staffing costs by £11 million this year, yet has managed to spend £30 million on agency staff. Will the chair of the Oxford anti-austerity campaign be writing another letter to himself on behalf of his constituents, asking for the Health Secretary to intervene to support his local NHS?
The Prime Minister: I am very proud of the NHS in Oxfordshire and everyone who works in it. Having met the head of the Oxford Radcliffe trust recently, I know that he supports the move towards more seven-day services. That is absolutely vital.
Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab): Ask your mother!
The Prime Minister: Ask my mother? I know what my mother would say. She would look across the Dispatch Box and say, “Put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem.”
Jeremy Corbyn: If we are talking of motherly advice, my late mother would have said, “Stand up for the principle of a health service free at the point of use for everybody.” That is what she dedicated her life to, as did many of her generation.
The PM would presumably make the excuse that it was a Labour member who started it. However, his escalation, I suggest, came close to being out of order. It was yet another example of "dead cat" tactics. To give him his due, Corbyn asks pointed questions. Cameron either veers off the subject or repeats spurious claims.

Jeremy Corbyn: This dispute with the junior doctors has been on the basis of misrepresented research about weekend mortality. I will read the Prime Minister what the researchers themselves say:
“It is not possible to ascertain the extent to which these excess deaths may be preventable; to assume that they are avoidable would be rash and misleading.”
Are the Prime Minister and his Health Secretary being “rash and misleading” with these figures?
The Prime Minister:  [...] Let me answer very directly the question about excess deaths. The 6,000 figure for excess deaths was based on a question asked by the Health Secretary of Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of the NHS. Now that we have had time to go into these figures in more detail, I can tell the House this: the Health Secretary was indeed guilty—he was guilty of an understatement. The true figure for excess deaths at the weekend are 11,000, not 6,000.
The government's interpretation of this statistic has already been refuted. Moreover, where there has been a real problem - stroke deaths at weekends - clinicians in the English NHS have virtually solved it without having to change junior doctors' contracts.

I fear today's Conservatives view the junior doctors in 2016 as the equivalent of the miners for Mrs Thatcher. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the dispute, the government will be seen to be defeating militant trade union action. At the end of the day, they will have sufficient power to defeat the BMA. There is one difference between the miners and the junior doctors: the doctors have plenty of alternative employment opportunities, and those who have not already moved across to our NHS in Wales* or left for other nations in the Commonwealth will surely do so. The result will be a deterioration in hospital provision. Mrs Thatcher rejected plans to privatise the NHS, not because she was opposed to the process, but because she knew that the NHS was held in such high regard that to proceed would be electoral suicide. Cameron and Hunt, with a background of genuinely increasing hospital deaths, would not find it so difficult.

* There will be more if Mark Drakeford addresses the problem of the assignment of new doctors. It seems that at present the latter may be posted anywhere in Wales. This creates difficulties for a doctor in a Merseyside hospital, say, who would be content with an assignment in north Wales where it would be easy to maintain contact with family and friends, but find a move to south Wales more trying.

No comments: