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October 2011

Hanging On by a Cable

A short measure of public esteem for the Liberal Democrats is the length attached in the media to the Rt. Hon. Vincent Cable MP’s name, and the longer, the better. When fully expanded in all its parts, the LDs are in full sail, before a soldier’s wind. Vincent says they are still making good way, but Vince tells of head winds, and when crimped to Vic, stormy seas are close ahead. The day it’s V signals nothing’s left, and that’ll be the day for those who value survival to abandon ship.

Dr No mentions this barometer of public esteem since it seems to him that, while Michael Foot may have written the longest suicide note in political history, the LDs are now engaged in the longest suicide act in political history.

Through a Glass of Amber Nectar, Darkly

Earlier this month, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee lived up to its name, and beamed a professor into one of its hearings. G’day Gilmore was down under, in the land of amber nectar and rich red shiraz, and by a miracle of technology he was also present in Westminster. Asked by the committee Chair whether he could hear those stuck in good ol’Blighty, G’day assured him that he could. ‘Yes, Chairman, very clearly thank you,’ he said. It was probably the clearest statement of the day.

The occasion was the taking of oral evidence by the STC in the matter of alcohol guidelines, and as ever the troupe of temperance tut-tutters headed up by G’Day were in on the act.

Patient Abuse - A Bad Case of Management Blowback?

Is there more patient abuse in the NHS today than there was, say, thirty years ago, or are we just better at exposing it? Dr No does not know for certain. He chose a thirty year comparator because it was about that time ago that he was a medical student, and then a junior doctor, and so frequently exposed to different wards and hospitals. His recollections from that time are more of starched white sheets, and of course the starched but very beguiling nurses who smoothed them out, than of beds doubling up as commodes. He does recall once seeing a cockroach on the polished wooden floor of a ward, but it was a one-off sighting of a very lonely cockroach. Today, it seems, the cockroaches have grown in both size and number, many now standing on two legs as they mishandle and maltreat the patients on their ward. Has it come to pass that the once occasional failing has now become normal practice?

La La Land

Question Time last night on BBC1 assembled a panel sure to cause fireworks, and fireworks there were, on a military scale. Lansley spent much of the programme looking like a barrage balloon about to explode, Sarah Sands explained to anyone willing to listen why she should be the next editor of the Daily Mail, and Mark Littlewood previewed the bilateral cauliflower ears that all Lib-Dems will sport, once the electorate give them the boxing about the ears that they so sorely deserve at the next election. But the best and most striking bit was the visceral anger of the audience. At one point, they almost rose up as one, as if to tear Lansley limb from limb. Dr No, pacifist that he is, almost wished they had. At least we would have been spared further sight of that blasted barrage balloon.

Owen Hits the Fan

Today, the Lords had a once in a lifetime opportunity to demonstrate, beyond reasonable doubt, that they are the peoples’ friend, the rock in the British system that stands against the tides of party politics – and they blew it. By allowing a second reading of the Health and Social Care bill, and failing to vote for significant amendments, they have, in effect, given free passage to the Bill and its inevitable consequence – the fragmentation and in due course destruction of our national health service.

This callous disregard not just for the will of the people, but also for the utterly overwhelming weight of professional opinion against the Bill, will cost the Lords dear. Familiar arguments that the Upper Chamber is a repository of the great and the good, of noble minds engaged on perfecting the interests of our historic nation and its people, are now revealed as hollow blandishments, the cries of hollow men and women. The British people – and Dr No says British, because although it is the English who will bear the brunt of pain, there has been remarkable solidarity from those less affected – will not forget this betrayal.

The Night of the Liam Dead

Last night’s News at Ten on BBC1 was fronted by a back room cove with hair pulled straight from a Brylcreem ad. The lead item presented Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, as a cross between a schoolboy caught with his shorts down, and a Klan buddy with his ex-best man. The editorial line was let’s pop Liam on a spit and roast him, because he might produce some good crackling. But then again he might not. We shall have to wait and see.

The second item featured a collection of brightly coloured blood stained table clothes spraying lead in the air somewhere in North Africa. A man wearing the neutered remnants of a community support worker’s uniform made from recycled egg cartons winced in the bottom left hand corner of the screen every time a gun went off. In between winces, he assured viewers that, whatever else was going on, there was a lot of gunfire going on. Gaddafi might have been somewhere in the background. But then again he might not. We shall have to wait and see.

The Brave New World of the BOGOF NHS

Pity the poor patients in Yorkshire. Hot on the heels of the Haxby scandal, which saw GPs mail-shotting patients special offer in-growing toenail ops in your own lunchtime deals (£146.95 a pop), we now have Assura East Riding LLP (another bunch of suits dressed as GPs) huffing and puffing all the way to the Competition Panel about alleged predatory pricing, not by their local Asda, but by their local NHS trust. AER claim that York Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust tendered a below cost orthopaedic service, and won, and as a result the local PCT told AER and its bid to, ahem, bog off. You can read the sordid details of AER’s complaint to the CCP here (pdf, 2.3Mb).

Would the Real GPs Please Stand Up

Monday’s Channel Four Dispatches programme featured Squeeze Esmail, a sharp professor of general practice, now turned part-time undercover Taliban operative. He lined up some stooges with a collection of red flag symptoms – so-called because they should indicate to any doctor the possibility of serious disease – and fitted them with spook-cams before sending them off to see dodgy GPs, most of whom had un-pronounceable names, and/or worked out of shady lock-up retail premises. The dodgy doctors duly obliged, failing to spot the suicide vests so visibly strapped to their patients chests. Jon Snow presented, with a mixture of knight’s move reporting and come-off-it interviews with Stilton, the chief pongo at the GMC. All in all, the programme raised some important questions, which Dr No may return to another day, but that didn’t stop the Jobbing Doctor from wailing, and hammering yet another nail into his already shattered foot on the cross.

How to Tank the Bill

Not so long ago, Meccano Flanders got herself into mild hot water for allegedly tanking the English language, by using the verb ‘to tank’, as in ‘If the Bank of England were really serious about helping the economy, it would be trying to tank the housing market’. Putting aside the correct but perhaps vaguely anachronistic use of the conditional subjunctive, the use of ‘tank’ as in ‘tank the housing market’ seems admirable to Dr No: a short crump of a word that perfectly conveys meaning. And so it is that Dr No too is also quite happy to talk of tanking, and so of how to tank the Bill, as in the Health and Social Care Bill; by which he means how to bring about its downfall1.

The general consensus these days seems to be that it is up to the Lords to tank the Bill. A variety of schemes and stratagems have been devised to assist the Lords in their Noble Cause, ranging from ‘Adopt a Lord’ programmes, apparently modelled on commendable animal welfare lines, to the submission of Stiffly Worded Letters, most recently from a group of four hundred senior doctors.