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Camden New Journal - One Week with JOHN GULLIVER
Published:25 January 2007
Buying health with wallets instead of at the ballot box

DO I detect a whiff of rebellion among doctors, nurses and hospital staff over the mess this government is making of the NHS?
I sensed it on Saturday afternoon when I sat among more than 250 medicos and health trade unionists who had met to help organise regional protests against the frenzy of NHS reforms.
Too much of Gordon Brown’s investment in the NHS has either gone to consultants commissioned to ‘improve’ the NHS or to a bewildering number of paper shufflers.
Meanwhile, junior doctors face unemployment, nursing posts are being reduced, and to cap it all, an avalanche of targets, some good, some bad, are creating a kind of neurosis among doctors and nurses.
This week junior doctors, who have already been practising for four years, are now forced under a new initiative to apply for their next job – and many of them will be disappointed.
In ophthalmology, for instance, more than 100 doctors will be competing for around 60 jobs nationwide. The careers of those who fail will suffer, while the patients will have to wait longer for their contract operations.
A doctor at the conference at Friends Meeting House in Euston argued that doctors should be protesting in the streets.
The conference welcomed the publication of a very good document about the secret privatisation that could bring the NHS down.
People often fear hospital consultants are on the make, more interested in their private practice than in the public clinic.
I’ve met such consultants but there are many who are religiously dedicated to the NHS.
I sat next to such a consultant at the conference who told me he had always worked within the NHS inspired by the great Albert Schweitzer, a saint-like doctor, whose name was known world-wide in the 1950s and 1960s.
At a recent reception at University College London Hospital (UCLH) I met a senior consultant who predicted pessimistically the NHS would break up, leaving A&E departments in public hands. But the doctors at the conference were willing to resist this bleak prognosis of the NHS.
Consultant Jacky Davis, who lives in Kentish Town, said there were now 30 bodies organising campaigns to defend the NHS. Damage is being caused, she said, because of a belief in the “unproven benefits of the free market”” She accused the government of operating “in an evidence free zone”.
Tony Benn said: “The NHS came about because of the power people exercised at the ballot box. They bought health care with their votes instead of with their wallets – but now with NHS privatisation it’s going the other way.”
Actress Emma Thompson, who lives in West Hampstead, along with Dame Helena Kennedy, of Belsize Park, Professor Wendy Savage and agony aunt Claire Rayner, signed a letter, published in The Times on Monday, supporting the new campaigning body, Keep the NHS Public,
A report launched at the conference warns: “Unlike the Thatcher privatisations of the 1980s, the whole NHS is not being put up for auction. Instead it is being parcelled off into bite-sized pieces and handed over to private control bit by bit.”

* The Patchwork Privatisation of Our Health Service – A User’s Guide, by Alex Nunns. Visit www.keepournhspublic. com.
Dr John attacks society’s ‘ugly underbelly’

THE Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu attacked a judge for advising a defendant on how to insult Asian people without ending up in court. The Archbishop didn’t use the expression by the judge before an audience at Friends Meeting House in Euston, but it was commonly reported.
Instead, of using a racial epithet, the judge said he could have called the man a “fat bastard”.
Britain’s first black archbishop thought this was more worrying than the Jade Goody row, though it had revealed “an ugly underbelly in society only too ready to point the finger at the foreigner, or those who might not fit in”.
Dr Sentamu reminded the 500 strong audience about the unsolved murder of Stephen Lawrence and said he would not rest “before he left this earth” until the killers had been brought to justice.
Dr Sentamu was delivering the 20th annual Martin Luther King memorial lecture, organised by a body formed by the country’s first black bishop, Wilfred Wood, who became Bishop of Croydon. Dr Sentamu expressed his concern that though black people only form eight per cent of the population, they represented 20 per cent of those in jail.
Bishop Wood, now retired and living in Barbados, ordained Dr Sentamu in the mid-1970s, and his daughters presented the Archbishop with a century-old Bishop’s mitre, made by nuns, that had been given to him in the 1980s. In a message he asked Dr Sentamu to pass it onto the next black bishop.

Open up blue plaque process

I HAVE been rounded on by the writer AN Wilson and English Heritage following my recent piece about the selection of names for a Blue Plaque (see letters, page 17).
My principal point remains that the actual selection is made by a committee that meets ‘in camera’ – and this is wrong.
There is a rising number of unelected and unaccountable quangoes that are influencing health, education, and even some of the judicial processes. Power, once in the hands of an electorate, is slowly being eroded.
English Heritage say they are not secret about who or why certain names are honoured with a plaque. Look, they say, we ask the public to submit names, isn’t that proof of our bone fides, and what more can we do?
But, perhaps, studiously they are ignoring my main point that once the names have been gathered the curtains are closed. Who sits on the committees to sift through the names submitted by the public, and what their deliberations are is not done in public – but in private.
I contrasted what goes on today with what went on under the London County Council and then the Greater London Council whose committees on public plaques consisted of members elected by the public and whose meetings were held in public. That’s a hell of a difference with what goes on today.
I appreciate the selection of names for plaque is of no great importance on the scale of things, but every time the role of the public in governing this country is diminished, I find myself in opposition to it.
As for AN Wilson I apologise for stating he is a member of the selection panel. He was at one time but is no longer.
Also, I suggested that panel members drew a stipend, and I was clearly wrong.
But the question remains: Is English Heritage, perhaps unknowingly, encouraging yet another quango? I say, yes.
And they should think of emulating the style of the old GLC committee.

Snow and Forest

FOREST Whitaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin in the The Last King of Scotland was inspired by a chat with news presenter Jon Snow.
He interviewed Amin at the presidential palace.
Jon advised Whitaker (pictured).
He said: “I told him about Amin’s mood swings.
“He would be laughing and shaking all over and then the next minute he would turn into a vampire.”

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