“We Screwed Up” -Guest Post by Tamar Feast.

When a person admits they were wrong it’s a humble thing to witness. Seeing their efforts to put things right helps us believe they are serious about fixing things, too. We then know they’re not just paying lip-service; they’re not ultimately self-serving in their admission.

When Ms Soubry said “we screwed up” she denied us on both counts. Her admission was, supposedly, referring to the government’s failure to properly put across the benefits of the Health and Social Care Bill (H&SCB) to health professionals. Unfortunately, it was not said in relation to the the bill itself. Basically, one could read it as an another insult to health professionals – and the general public – as it infers that, had things been put across ‘differently’, they may have understood, swallowed and accepted it without fuss or complaint. In short, Soubry makes a kind of admission of not dumbing-down duly; of not ‘spinning’ sufficiently,

“As we have acknowledged, we could have done more when the plans were set out initially to explain the benefits for patients,  and encourage the support of health professionals.”

(The Independent, 14 September 2012)

The Government didn’t acknowledge that great exception was made to the H&SCB because it was an abhorrent defacement of the NHS, or accept what health professionals (who were best placed to scrutinise it) were saying about its suggested ‘benefits’ being of benefit only to private companies and the Government, not the NHS and its end users. Neither does Soubry now seem to appreciate that even after the “rare step” of pausing legislation to “hold a listening excercise”, from which ‘improvements’ were supposed to have been made, this support did not happen (in fact it decreased dramatically) but not because of presentation of message. A bad bill put differently is still a bad bill.

In March I wrote to Soubry to express my complete opposition to the H&SCB; my disdain for her assumption that her constituents were incapable of understanding the details and ramifications of it, and disgust for the Government blatantly dismissing and ignoring  the across-the-board healthcare bodies’ warnings of the damage the bill would do to the care and treatment of their patients.  I was not alone. There were many petitions set up, many of which achieved hundreds of thousands of signatures (38 Degrees’ ‘Save The NHS’ petition to the Government weighs-in at over 650,000 signatures; their subsequent petition to the House of Lords, over 170,000).

Many Beestonian’s also wrote of their disagreement and  concern to their MP, Ms Soubry. Rather than respond personally, she published an ‘open letter’ which failed to address specific concerns or questions directed at her, and instead brushed these aside in a patronising, vague manner. It was in response to this open letter than I punched out my own missive  I did receive a personal response. However, pro forma and brief to a degree more fitting an invoice, she may as well not’ve bothered.  Indeed, two of the five lines involved were taken up with an invitation to make an appointment at her constituency office to go through my points in more detail. I have yet to do so. My letter was five pages long, sub-headed and clearly laid out. I spent a good couple of hours redrafting it after spending a good couple of hours spitting rather too generally. I think I made my points clear enough and they were not really up for negotiation. Maybe I screwed up, maybe I didn’t explain my furious disappointment well enough. But I think not.

Aside from arguing quite what  mistakes the government have made (there are so many things, it’s hard to keep tabs), I’m sure we’d all like to hear what will be done to ‘make good’ of them.  Surely, when you make a mistake – and know you’ve made a mistake – about something which you purport to care about quite passionately, you put in concerted efforts to make up for it and, if you can, remedy the situation? Ironically, health care professionals who are part of  the ‘misunderstanding’ are implicated in the bill itself, in that they’re expected to implement it. Soubry said in her statement,

“We all know that the NHS needs to change to ensure it can deliver the best possible care for everyone. This is what the public deserve, and it is what our plans are designed to deliver by putting doctors and nurses – the people who best understand patients’ needs – in charge.”   (ibid)

So here we have professional bodies who have extensively expressed disagreement with, concern about and opposition to the H&SCB. These same professional bodies, according to Soubry, have failed to ‘get’ the benefits of the bill. Despite this, they have forced upon them the responsibility for implementing the bill by making the NHS an external competitive market. I’d say that was a screw up on three levels… leading to an inevitable fourth. It strikes me that this further evidences the Government’s (and Tories’ especially) total disregard for the NHS.

Not only do they not heed initial and subsequent crucial notices pinpointing where and how the bill will detrimentally effect patient care, but they put no stock in the exodus en masse of almost all major health professional’s bodies and associations from support of the bill either, and now the new junior health minister has the audacity to say the Government “screwed up” – but only in representing the bill’s benefits.

The Government would say that medical professionals are now beginning to ‘come round’ to the reforms – and are working with them successfully. But what choice do they have? The Bill is passed; it’s made law.  Unlike politicians paying lip service, doctors, nurses and other NHS staff genuinely care – it is their raison d’être – about their patients and charges. To continue to dig their heels in and sabotage matters deliberately would only affect patients further.  They must act elsewhere, at another time, if they want to see the reforms ditched. And they intend to.

Which leads me to the foremost question in my mind – why now? Why admit to some screw up or other now? As I said, the bill is now law, it’s rolling out all over the place. Why this humble, little ‘back-peddle’?

Well, back in March a group of almost 250 GPs/consultants/professors and other NHS professionals formed a revenge pact to put up candidates in the 2015 election to stand against MPs who had backed the H&SCB. They published a letter announcing as much in The Independent. They’re angry.  Very angry. At one point they referred to the bill as an “embarrassment to democracy”. They go on to say,

“These drastic changes fundamentally undermine the founding principles of the NHS and have no democratic mandate from the electorate and were not part of the coalition agreement.

As healthcare professionals, we are appalled that the coalition Government has imposed many of the changes before the bill has even been enacted and then tried to use this as “evidence” that the professions support their reform. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Government has systematically failed to make the case for such radical change to the NHS, which has recently been shown to be one of the most cost effective and highly performing healthcare systems in the world, enjoying its highest ever public satisfaction rates. None of the major healthcare representative organisations and professional associations supports the reforms, and the majority of them would like to see the bill withdrawn. From the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to the British Geriatrics Society, healthcare professionals agree that the reforms will damage and fragment the NHS, widen healthcare inequalities, and worsen patient care in England.” (The Independent on Sunday, Letters, 18 March 2012)

Many doctors who have pledged to stand have no experience in politics.  However, neither do they have experience of running a private business and Managing – yet the government seems happy to expect them to suddenly start doing both, as well as administer care to their patients ( I suppose if an ex-TV presenter can become a junior health minister with very few year’s experience as an MP then anything’s possible!).

The list of potential seats is long. Apart from backing the bill, the main qualifying factor is that a seat is vulnerably marginal. Anna Soubry’s on the list. Having such a paltry majority meant that she was probably one of the first on it. Of course, her so visibly, so vocally, backing the reforms probably doesn’t help either. Add to that her public, patronising dismissal of Dr Clare Gerada on the  BBC Daily Politics Show -“but you’re part time”- and you’ve got a Belisha beacon of a seat for the taking. Plus we have smart, popular, well-liked doctors in Broxtowe. Lots of them (one or two in particular). Soubry claims to have met with most of them. She claims one even “begged” her to get these reforms through. Though, if she knows doctors like she knows postmen this may well be stretching the truth.

Evidently, it’s not entirely cynical to think that Soubry’s said this out of self-interest, or self-preservation. Sensing an absolute trouncing in 2015, it’s no wonder she’s allofasudden set her sights elsewhere. She’s ambitious and knows what she’s doing – and it’s not for the good of the NHS, her constituents or even the Conservative Party. I believe Anna Soubry is a woman of great self-importance. There is style but no substance, and her goals are all her own. She will say what she needs to say to get by at the time and appears to have very little genuine regard for her constituents, wherever they may be (just ask Gedling) or, for that matter, the issue for which she is currently banging on about. If this is not the case, and Soubry believes the opposite is true, then I would suggest she has failed in her job, and failed in representing herself. You could say she has screwed up.   Wherever it is that Soubry wants to go, she’ll probably get there – but she won’t take you with her.

3 thoughts on ““We Screwed Up” -Guest Post by Tamar Feast.

  1. Ash says:

    You may be interested in this interview with Prof Ian Shaw (from back in March) that covers many of the issues related to the Health and Social Care Bill : http://bftfblog.blogspot.com/2012/05/interview-prof-ian-shaw-short-version.html

  2. Ash says:

    And the coverage by the BBC has been shocking. I’ve lost all faith in their news output over this issue : http://bftfblog.blogspot.com/2012/06/challenging-bbc-on-coverage-of-nhs-bill.html

  3. Nick Palmer says:

    Interesting piece, and it’s important to spot the difference between “Sorry we made a mistake and will fix it” to “Sorry we didn’t explain the beauty of our proposals to you properly” with its implication of “We’d not realised you’re so think”. I do know senior health professionals who are, as Tamar says, getting on with the job because they don’t have a choice and feel they have to make the best of it.

    I would say, though, that a GP standing in Broxtowe on an “NHS first” ticket would be wonderful news for Miss Soubry – in fact I suspect it’s the one thing that would save her seat. People who think the NHS reforms are good, or (more numerous) who don’t really like or understand them but are generally pro-Conservative, will vote for Miss Soubry regardless. People who don’t like the changes will be recruited disproportionately from Labour and LibDem voters, but in an ultra-marginal lots of Labour voters will simply vote Labour, so it’d split the non-Tory vote AGAIN. Having lost one election because a third candidate claimed he was poised to win and so Labour voters should switch to him, I don’t think we should welcome the prospect of that happening again. It would make a lot more sense for people oppose do the changes to (a) extract from rival candidates some CLEAR promises on what they would like to do on this and (b) support those rival candidates who are persuasive on this and have a decent shot at winning.

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