Getting beneath the Health Service?

Nearly a week later and triple whammy Wednesday is looking more like a triple whammy wind up than political crisis. In any case a three point attack seems to have dissipated much potential damage. Even Charles Clarke (whose troubles seems the most grounded in political reality) can claim the excuse of having the largest and most unwieldy ministerial brief, with 70,000 employees and £13 billion budget. Meanwhile Patricia Hewitt even has Polly Toynbee in her corner over the need for rigorous reform of the NHS, and who was withering in her judgement that the once dignified RCN, is now easily outshone by Unison in terms of its political savvy.Part of the problem is a failure to get to grips with the real on-the-ground situation, particularly in health – but the same applies in a range of policy areas, not least in education. In Northern Ireland one of the most controversial decisions made in the duration of the NI Executive was the one to close the Tyrone Hospital, in favour of investing in the Erne Hospital. Yet there was little discussion in the public domain as to hows, whys and wherefores of that decision. It was more a case of hit the red button and withdraw (in this case, from government).

One interesting online experiment, which might help get some some kind of grip on at least how the users feel about the health service delivery is Patient Opinion. It’s a kind of ‘rate my teacher’ site which collects feedback and categorises it by area, speciality and perspective. Sadly it doesn’t register Northern Ireland, but this is the kind of result one Dorset hospital gets. It’s clearly early days, but something with this kind of gamesy approach is likely to give users a bottom up handle on what’s happening with their local services.

  • If Polly Toynbee be on my side, who can be against me!!!!

  • Rapunsel


    I think you are wrong about the decision in respect of the Erne Hospital.

    “Yet there was little discussion in the public domain as to hows, whys and wherefores of that decision. It was more a case of hit the red button and withdraw (in this case, from government.”

    This decision has been well rehearsed in Fermanagh and Tyrone in particular and there’s hardly a person in either council area who does not know the ins and outs in great detail. Lobby groups were established in each area if my recollection of living in the area in late 1990’s /2000’s serves me correctly. Both councils commissioned detailed pieces of research. For once I believe the decision reached was and is the right one and has been taken with an eye to the needs of the wider population in the area.

    Interesting what you say about Polly Toynbee and Patricia Hewitt. Story in Observer yesterday was taking quite a critical line on the nurses especially in respect of new recruits.Feel myself that some may live to regret their performance last week. Some people need to remember who and what the likely alternative to new Labour is and for the nurses and other health sector workers the alternative is likely to be much worse.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m sure you are right about the consultation Rap. But such public discussion as there was doesn’t seem to have had a lasting effect. My suspicion is that sound consultation and wide ranging public debate are two significantly different creatures.

  • Rapunsel

    Fair point especially as we know that much consultation is really designed to mask ” decide and inform”. The decision is done and dusted now… or is it? Could it posible be that at least in this instance direct rule enabled the correct decision to be made, one that the local parties could not and would not have made?

  • willis


    The view of many in the Labour Movement is that the alternative to New Labour is Labour.


    Apropos todays earlier discussion on removing posts, you must have a smaller ego than Polly Toynbee judging by the Guardian’s deletion policy.

  • Mick Fealty

    What kind of an ego do think I’m likely to have after running Slugger for four years? 😉

  • willis

    Point taken!

  • páid

    I wonder, in all of this, (sorry for lapsing into shinnerspeak) if the managerialists who have led the NHS, and their NL strategists, for the last 10 years may be running out of steam? The NHS, run from the 60s for the benefit of the workers rather than the patients, is now run, IMHO, as efficient as it is likely to get. So do the old human values of care and philanthropy have a role yet? I suspect they may make a comeback.

  • esmereldavillalobos

    The how’s, why’s and wherefores with regard to TCH are pretty damningly summed up in the Royal College of Surgeon’s report into surgical and emergency services. Not enough cases to keep surgeon’s skills up, unable to recruit good candidates to the jobs (consultants or trainees), lack of doctors in the ED, poor cooperation between the Erne and TCH. The bottom line was that the population could not sustain it and it was unsafe as a result. The die was cast and the Erne got it – a pity for Omagh as all hospital closures are emotive especially after the heroics of August ’98 but the populus should be realistic. The hospital was operating below minimum standards with doctors who were not the best candidates because the trust could not persuade them it was a good place to work! It had to have the acute services removed because it was dangerous for the patients… and TCH is not the only one.

  • willis

    I think Patricia Hewitt got the flak that Jock Reid deserved. Of course coming across as a P3 teacher doesn’t help.

  • esmereldavillalobos

    The “best year ever” phrase was the finest gaff from a health secretary I’ve heard. Not a complete distortion of the truth but what were you thinking when jobs are being cut?