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NO SACRED COW

Stephen  Day

Stephen Day

NO SACRED COW

  • 23.08.2017

THERE are some subjects that are much more controversial than others (Enoch Powell, for instance) but that should not mean they remain unaddressed. So, here goes. There are few institutions in this world that are generally accepted as being beyond criticism. There is, however, one that for millions of people, springs readily to mind: Britain's rightly treasured NHS.

Let me make clear at the outset. During the whole of my life, before I came to the TRNC (January 2006), I never had any treatment other than through the NHS. I was an NHS baby, at the time of its own birth. So I value it and want it to survive. The question surely is: how? We can only answer that if we accept it is NOT beyond criticism. It certainly should not be turned into a sacred cow, beyond reproach, to the extent that anybody recognising it could perform better, and proposing radical reform to make it so, is accused of seeking to "privatise" it.

Let us be clear, such are the demographic pressures of an ageing population and advances in costly new treatments, the NHS faces a massive budgetary crisis. That is despite large increases in state funding being provided throughout its history. Any funding "cuts" have been cuts in projected increases rather than in real terms. Out of £796 billion total UK government spending projected for 2017/18, Britain spends £47 billion on defence, £86 billion on education and (wait for it) £146 billion on health.

So, while the NHS will undoubtedly need even more increases in government funding, that is NOT the only answer to its problems; if it were, those problems would have been solved decades ago. Throwing money down a bottomless pit helps nobody. Taxpayers rightly benefit from a "free" NHS service at the point of delivery. In practice, they also pay for it all of their lives. The NHS is not totally "cost free" and never has been. It has to be paid for. Government therefore has a duty to ensure value for the money spent. That is why the most comprehensive NHS clinical efficiency audit ever conducted has just reported its findings to the UK government.

Professor Tim Briggs, with a career as both a surgeon and a consultant, was responsible for the audit. He and his team, including other medical professionals, have visited every NHS trust and hospital in the country. Their conclusions are staggering.

They found "huge variations" in cost and quality of service across the NHS (in other words, accusations of treatment availability and quality of service being a postcode lottery are true). For instance, more than 300,000 patients were admitted to emergency surgery beds when no surgery was required. Some hospitals were paying (wait for it) 350 times more for basic surgical equipment than others, "for no clear reason". They found "huge variations" in treatments and clinical practices between one hospital and another -- and even more disturbingly, they discovered that the worst performing hospitals were often "ignorant of better practice elsewhere". In other words if the "best practices" discovered in many hospitals were adopted universally across the service, Professor Briggs says that "could save billions" for the NHS and improve service.

Lack of space denies me the ability to list all his revelations here, but the total leads him to believe that while the NHS will need extra government finance to get over the current funding crisis, "it must put its own house in order before receiving extra taxpayers' cash". It takes guts to say that, but in his case they are well-informed guts.

Add to all this the crisis in Accident and Emergency departments, largely due to difficulties in securing urgent appointments at most GP surgeries, and it is a welcome miracle that for most NHS patients, the service is so good. My reading of these findings is that it is not NHS frontline dedication that's in question; it's management failure to spread and share best managerial and clinical practice throughout the service.

There are those, usually of the political Left, who will accuse Professor Briggs of "undermining the NHS" and "attacking hard-working nursing staff" while demanding the UK government just endlessly shell out more money. Such folk masquerade as "saviours of the NHS". In fact, their attitudes will doom it to inevitable collapse and Britain to bankruptcy, under the inescapable demographic pressures facing the NHS. The true friends of the NHS are the likes of Professor Briggs. Good luck to him.

ON WESTMINSTER

Shut him up or sack him

BRITAIN'S Chancellor, Philip Hammond, may have all the charisma of a small-town accountant but he undoubtedly is on top of his brief. He therefore has all the makings of a competent and effective Chancellor of the Exchequer (just don't put him on the guest list for your next riotous party).

What a pity that he can't shut up, especially about Brexit, which intentionally or not, he appears to be trying to frustrate at every opportunity. One minute he tells us "we are leaving the single market", then the next he is hinting at a long "transitional period" (which effectively could mean we would not leave in 2019). Not surprisingly, that caused a certain amount of dissension within the Brexit Tory ranks, not to mention embarrassment for the prime minister.

One cannot help thinking somebody then whispered in Hammond's ear (I doubt they were sweet nothings) because he was soon assuring us the "UK would be leaving in 2019". Good – except it's all now as clear as mud.

I'm sure the prime minister is constantly walking a tightrope between Tory Brexit supporters and Remainers, especially in her Cabinet. She probably believes it's better to keep the likes of Hammond inside the tent, for fear of what he might do if he was expelled out into the wild blue yonder.

There could come a point when his constant hints at a "soft Brexit" (no Brexit at all) prove more damaging to the prime minister's interests than anything he could say from the back benches. He should be told to shut up and stick to the line. If he doesn't, there is only one option: sack him.

A DAY IN THIS LIFE

Glass houses

I SEE "TH" of Karşıyaka (Letters, last week) suggested my views on Enoch Powell (Day by Day, July 29) might be "ironic" given my own status "as an immigrant" in the TRNC, while Stephen Roberts of Kalecik linked that status with the old saying, "people in glass houses" etc. Fine.

Just one little niggle: my connection with TRNC goes back a long way. I have been known to TRNC authorities past and present, as a friend and supporter of the Turkish Cypriot cause, both during my time at Westminster and afterwards. I still actively support and have contacts with many TC organisations, including Embargoed! and Turkish Cypriots Abroad. Yes, I am proudly an immigrant, but I'm an integrated one. What a pity large sections of the UK immigrant population are not. I would suggest I may not be the one living in a glass house.

Priceless Prince

SO PRINCE Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at the grand old age of 96, has stepped down from royal duties. By any measure, he has been the hardest working royal, except for Her Majesty. I have always thought the lovable old mischief is a national treasure. Referring to the Duke and Duchess of York's (Fergie's) then newly built house, he said: "It looks like a tart's bedroom." This was only surpassed by a comment in Canada in 1969: "I declare this thing open, whatever it is." Priceless.

Isn't hindsight wonderful?

AFTER the UK general election a leading astrologer said she had "consulted the astrological alignments" for the period and whatever she did, Theresa May could not have possibly have won on that day. I see. Fantastic hindsight. What a pity she hadn't consulted her charts BEFORE Theresa fixed the date!

 

 

 

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