The varied world of health

20 Jul 2013

The title may not be very imaginative but it does what it says on the tin, in that the month of July has been full of stories. In this article, I shall do a blanket summary about health and the importance of recent health stories. 

Happy Birthday NHS! – Recently the country celebrated the 65th birthday of the National Health Service.  And what better birthday present for the NHS than a clash in the Commons between Cameron and Miliband regarding lots of issues including health. It has been a very long 65 years for the NHS, with 12 governments serving since its formation in 1948 and lots of changes to its operation, including the current government reforms to make more services ‘efficient and cost effective’. It would be interesting to see what Mr Atlee and Mr Bevan would say looking at the welfare state and the NHS now. Would they be proud that their institutions have lasted so long? Or would they be disappointed in how the focus has slowly changed from care to cost over many years? I’m sure that despite the current debates regarding health, the NHS has still got many years left- the issue for the current government led by Mr Cameron is how to preserve the founding principles of the NHS but try and balance cost efficiency and public confidence.


Uncovering the extremely covered up cover-up – The sub-heading may be a tongue twister (try saying that in a hurry!) but it is true. Confidence in the Care Quality Commission has plummeted with revelations regarding a huge cover-up over many cases to prevent the people responsible from being revealed. Unfortunately, for them, the names are now out and the chiefs are admitting that there was a wide scale cover-up. After watching some of the highlights from the Health Select Committee (the joys of the job ....) when the bosses were being grilled by members of the committee, it seemed that they were happy to hold their hands up and admit it shouldn’t have happened to begin with. The question is, how can they wipe the slate clean and gain public confidence? Well, they could take the tact used by George Entwhistle when he was the Director General at the BBC and decide to resign (and probably take a massive pay-off) or they could stick at it and hope for the best, that the crisis will eventually go away. As new cases rise to the surface, it will be interesting to see how the CQC leadership tackle this. 

Free and Fair NHS? - The reforms of the current government, most particularly in Health, have not been the most welcomed in the UK since the Coalition came to office in 2010. Andrew Lansley and Jeremy Hunt have been interesting Health Secretaries with interesting ideas, most notably now with Hunt announcing that the NHS will no longer be entirely free to immigrants in order to end Health Tourism. This may just buck the trend of the unwelcomed reforms. Indeed, this is a huge reason why the country is in debt – no paying but getting it for free. This will hopefully mean that spending on ‘free’ NHS services will be able to be prioritised for British taxpayers. It is the issue of fairness and with two years to go until the election, time is running out for the government.

Mental health needs to be known – Michael Gove and David Cameron have recently been announcing radical reforms to the curriculum to try and give Britain the best chance for economic prosperity. One of the areas to be improved is likely to be knowledge about handling money etc. in the hope that young people can gain the vital skills necessary to handle the ‘real’ world. But many have also called for the National Curriculum to incorporate teaching about mental health issues, something which may not make us materially richer, but would certainly make our society stronger and more understanding. MindFull, a new charity, has said that many young people who have symptoms of depression are usually ignored, leading to an escalation which could result in very dark times for the individual and the people around them. It is hoped that awareness of mental health issues such as depression can be created through it being taught in schools, and so people know an increasing amount about how they can support it. Being the brother of someone who has a mental illness, I know how difficult and inconsistent the problem is, one minute he can feel fine and the next something may disturb him. I also know it is important that people around that person have to be there, with the appropriate knowledge, when support and help is needed. I know from experience that more awareness is needed and more people need to know that people with mental health issues should not be stigmatised but supported. If it was to be taught on the curriculum, I would say, it would be the right step, but it needs to be taught sensitively – the main problem with mental health is that the slightest mistake in tackling it can make the situation worse, but on the whole this is a welcome call for me.

Blame Game: Health Round - We know that cover-ups, troubles, mistakes and failures have been prominent in some NHS trusts, but many commentators have asked questions, and, to be honest, I would add my name to those who would like to know the answers. Firstly, how rife are the failures in the NHS? – we saw Mid-Staffordshire Hospital, then Barrow Furness and now 11 more have been found with no clear-cut management and consequently less focus on care. The next, how long do these problems span? Well, the Health policy of the current government hasn’t been clear-cut and has had its fair amount of disturbance, with votes of no confidence, strikes and the completion of the new 111 number service being delayed until 2014. But actually, it is the Labour Health team who is in the spotlight more regarding these failures than the actual government. Peculiar, but it has been eluded that perhaps the failings scale back before the 2010 election, which leaves the current government (relatively) blame free. Again, very peculiar- Labour tried to come back at the recent news by saying that the government hasn’t helped by cutting nurse numbers- but it has been since discovered that 8 of the 11 trusts have actually had an increase in nurse numbers since 2010, revelations which left ‘Red Ed’ red faced.

You’re Hired – Like many around the country, I am an avid watcher of the Apprentice on the BBC. And out of all the series in the UK, this one must had been up there with the best. There were lots of very credible candidates with very interesting business plans, but in the end, the choice for the 66 year boardroom magnate, Lord Sugar, was between Cakes and Beauty enhancement. Both perhaps have an interesting link to health, as the Labour Peer said himself in the final episode, but he had to hire someone, and the winner this year was Dr Leah Totton with her business of beauty enhancement. It did raise a few eyebrows (perhaps literally ...) in the boardroom as Sugar wasn’t entirely convinced by the ethics of it in the semi-final. And of course, this is a huge risk as, with anything to do with procedures, there is an element of it going wrong. But, being a businessman, he plumped for the risk and it will be interesting to see how the business will go, especially with the ethics behind it. 

A final round-up:
Because of the flaws in health, it is no surprise that the government want to introduce measures to regulate health care and quality a little closer, especially after the watchdog- the CQC- was under fire itself. With this in mind, the government are looking to make hospital inspections tougher to drive up standards in health. This could work, but after the recent revelations, the end result could be more hospitals showing they cannot cut the mustard.

Alcohol pricing is a controversial topic. And it has long been debated about how changing the pricing of alcohol will affect consumption and evidently social and health issues. The government had a plan to introduce a minimum pricing strategy on alcohol but this was dropped as it was felt that it could have the opposite effect that the government envisaged.

In my next article, I will tackle that age old question – Should the NHS be privatised?

Backbench Minister for Health

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