I can’t quite believe I’ve done this, but after a small discussion piece courtesy of Aunty this morning (Radio 4 Today programme to be exact—where else?) I’ve just toddled over to the dark side for a peek at “Conservative Home”. It’s a scary place for a dyed in the wool pinko liberal like myself, but Tim (the proprietor of same—apparently that’s how his punters like to name him) has woken up far too late in the game, to the unpopularity of the Health and Social Care Bill. Well done Timbo. Trouble is you’re a couple of years late and a tad more than a dollar short (roughly £20 Billion in modern nomenclature).
The reality is, whether Dave ditches Nutter Lansley (the Fred Dibnah of NHS restructuring) or no, the damage is already done. The changes our esteemed Health Secretary wanted made have been enacted by fiat, un-trialled and unchallenged and there’s no turning the clock back now, Bill or no Bill the NHS must restructure because he’s already blown to tiny pieces the bodies that were running the fractured health economies that made up the hopelessly balkanized soi-disant “National” Health Service. With PCTs de facto abolished and Commissioning Groups champing at the bit to take over (but still in our locale hopelessly ill equipped and un-resourced), Dave and the soaraway success that is our coalition can fiddle all they like. Rome is well and truly ablaze and we can only await the Phoenix that will arise from her ashes.
Tim’s article and the opinions of his various commenters just go to show how utterly our political class fails to grasp “health” as an issue. They can’t resist tinkering and faffing. As I’ve argued before it would be impossible for them. It’s not their fault, and it’s not particularly different under this administration if I’m honest, except in outcome. Lansley has been more radical that some, less than others in his stated intent, but worryingly, he has been let loose to run amok BEFORE fully framing the legislation and establishing the structures that would allow his reforms to take shape. The last time this happened, in 1997, it took us a while to sort, but thanks to the dedication and professionalism of countless much derided NHS managers, and the care and devotion of all the NHS professions, it got sorted.
My worry is that we’re not now the service we were then, and that the dedication and devotion has been severely eroded by over a decade of being on the sharp end of loony initiatives and make-work restructuring, plus struggling to hit unattainable targets, like performing seals honking air horns for fish. And this erosion is far from the fault this administration alone. Indeed though the seeds for our present difficulties were sown by dear Margaret Hilda and her barmy army, they were seized on wholeheartedly by Tone and Gordon and driven further and harder under them than I suspect any right of centre government would have dared.
So if this is all sounding rather like a counsel of despair, you’re probably right to see it as such. It is far from clear what our battered health services will look like when and if the dust settles. Locally our own health economists are looking at a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to reshape services for the future, but I fear even before their plans have been drafted we’ll be moving on to the next initiative— and scrapping the bill will make very little difference one way or the other. Sadly health in real life isn’t like health in the popular imagination—fuelled as that is by dramas that wrap up a complex case in sixty minutes (forty five on independent channels to allow space for adverts for things almost calculated to make you ill). And politicians, as again I think I’ve said before, are taught to think in terms of balance sheets and changes to be delivered in their entirety within eighteen months or at least ahead of the next reshuffle. So Tim, if you’re listening—and I can’t see any reason you would be-- say what you like about the bill and its prospects for Dave’s re-election chances, but please, please spare a thought for the poor bastards on the receiving end* of your masters' extravagant insanities, and try to persuade them to think in terms of generations and not reshuffles.
* Oh and by the way that’s all of us—assuming you’re ever unfortunate to suffer a long term ailment that the private sector won’t insure—like diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, chronic lung disease, any occupational ailment..... well pretty much anything except a boob job** if I’m honest. Oh and especially NHS managers—those we have left.
** Oh and probably boob jobs too-- at least if they were done on the cheap.