New Secretary of State for Health has a mammoth task ahead.
David Cameron has praised the NHS – but in the words of a famous call girl, Mandy Rice-Davies “he would, wouldn’t he”.
But, in the run-up to the election, spokesmen such as Mark Simmonds drew attention to NHS shortcomings in comparison to services provided in European hospitals, and saying the NHS should be aiming to equal their services. Now, under the new Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, CBE, it remains to be seen if election promises live up to reality.
Lansley, born 11 December 1956 in Hornchurch, Essex, is Conservative Member of Parliament for South Cambridgeshire, first elected in the 1997 general election. He has a medical background, as his father, Thomas, was a pathologist, co-founder of the Council for Professions Supplementary to Medicine and chaired the Institute of Medical Laboratory Scientists. Lansley gained his political nouse working for Norman Tebbit.
As Shadow Secretary for health, he developed policies centred on using choice to improve the National Health Service. He is the author of a chapter in The Future of the NHS (2006) (ISBN 1-85811-369-5).
And wanting to put a positive slant on things, he wrote a blog entry on the Conservative Party website which claimed the “good things” from a recession included people being able to spend more time with their families. In the weird world of politics, he was later forced to apologise.
First time I came across Lansley was when I wrote a gentle email asking that David Cameron temper his praise of the NHS – saying that many parents of disabled children had found the NHS had let them down. To be fair, Gordon Brown also heaped praises on the health service, but at the time he and Cameron were starting their electioneering (last summer), and both knew that the NHS as an institution is held fast in the hearts of the electorate. But if you had asked other parents of disabled children what were their experiences – you might have been given a picture of cancelled appointments, wrong diagnosis, long waits for important tests, etc. even if the parents had bought their disabled child on a long journey from Scotland to London – only to find that no-one had let them know their child’s appointment had been cancelled.
At that time The Patients’ Association (PA) issued a damning report exposing the reality of NHS treatment for many of those who don’t have political strings to pull. Elderly patients are particularly badly treated, and Age Concern are constantly battling to get better treatment for OAPs – too often neglected and left without support. Sadly, many of the cases they chose to highlight were cancer-related.
Back came a scorching email from Lansley saying how wonderful was the NHS. and how dared it criticise it. I forwarded this to the Patients’ Association, who replied almost immediately with a list of speeches in the past couple of months in which Lansley had had a go at the institution.
Funny that. But at the time Brown and Cameron were sucking up to Obama and wanted the Americans to think everything was roses with our NHS.
Today, most cancer patients are lucky to receive excellent primary care, although post hospital care still leaves a lot to be desired. It is scandalous that the Survivorship programme, being overseen by Macmillan, won’t be reporting until 2012! There are some superb specialist nurses who have given us fantastic service, probably because theirs is a speciality, and they have been left to get on with their work with limited interference from administration. However, for much basic care, nurse Rona Johnson recently was quoted as saying “we nurses have just forgotten how to care”.
Let’s not forget that it isn’t thanks to politicians that cancer services have improved. This has come about because doctors, nurses and technicians have battled to give NHS patients the same care they receive in other countries; demanding the new drugs freely given to patients in Europe, often giving up their free time to fund-raise for new equipment, etc. paid for by charities, not the NHS.
Lansley would do well to remember this. Mark Simmonds, whom one hopes will be his deputy, fully understand how much our cancer care lags behind that in Europe. He will quote statistics about our survival rate at the drop of a hat : none of these were complimentary to the NHS, but it remains to be seen if these important statistics will be locked in the cupboard now that Conservatives/Lib Dems hold the NHS in their care.
Perhaps it is up to patients to point out, politely but firmly, when NSH care falls below acceptable standards. The new coalition has a lot to do with reforming our health care – make sure it does it wisely, and when the cuts come they go where they should – NOT in frontline services.
Lord Darzi has admitted that although we hand over more cash to the NHS in taxes (approx. £2,000 pp per year) than the French do with their combination of tax and insurance, our health service lags way behind theirs in performance, with French patients on average living around 4 – 5 years longer. And if we factor in the high percentage paying for private health care, and receiving no trade-off benefit, the figure is even higher. And this goes on for the 45 – 50 years on average that we pay taxes.
So don’t let up. Keep up the momentum started by Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s fantastically organised Fly-in campaigns for improvement in screening and lymphoedema services, and keep on at your new MP. Their next Fly-in is 18th – 19th October 2010. Here you can turn your MP’s pledges into actions that will change futures and save lives. Meet Ministers and policy makers and raise your voice to demand better breast cancer services and treatments. The first Westminster Fly-In after the General Election is your chance to meet your newly elected MP and gain their commitment to improve breast cancer services and treatments. The event is free for CAN members and includes overnight accommodation and an evening meal with a speaker. (Last year we suffered Patricia Hewitt, but am sure that was for political reasons to pay back support over Herceptin).
CAN member Amanda Jones said the Fly-In left her “inspired, informed and ready to make a difference with Breakthrough. It was a terrific 36 hours!”
To book a place phone 020 7025 2485 or email firstname.lastname@example.org