I have written before on how we are seemingly incapable of having an intelligent debate on the NHS. As soon as any reform is mooted, people like John Prescott immediately jump on to a bandwagon, making outrageous claims of the dire consequences that will befall us. We live in a country that thinks only the government can provide an effective, free at the point of use healthcare system. We are completely dependent on the NHS. It’s an addiction as strong as heroin. We have become blinkered to such an extent, we are terrified of any proposals to modify the way we access healthcare services. Rational debate goes out of the window, and anyone advocating change is seen as a pariah.
The government proposes to replace NHS Direct with the 111 service currently being piloted in Co Durham and Darlington. This is what Professor Stephen Singleton, medical director of NHS North East said:
"The introduction of the NHS 111 service in County Durham and Darlington is an important part of our regional vision to improve access to urgent healthcare for local people.
"By better understanding what people really need from different local services, 111 will enable the commissioning of more effective and productive health care.
"Most importantly it will help improve efficiency across the whole health care system by reducing unnecessary waste and making sure people get access to the right service, first time."
I’m not saying this service is going to be perfect, and will suit everyone. Nor do I think NHS Direct fits this category either. What we do need to ask is whether we need a service staffed with nurses, when other trained people can handle the calls? We already have the answer. Only around 40% of staff working for NHS Direct are nurses. The new service will be able to direct callers to the relevant service they need and will also call 999 for you if necessary. It will be cheaper. It will be more streamlined and above all it will be better. A winner on all fronts, so why is Labour, in particular John Prescott, having a fit?
It could be because Prescott and all the potential Labour leadership candidates are acting with noble intentions. It could be, but it isn’t. If Labour had won the general election, it would have made more or less the same decision, and would have trumpeted it as progressive. Indeed, John Prescott stayed remarkably quiet when news about the 111 service broke before the election. Apart from Diane Abbot, all the leadership candidates were in the cabinet at the time and – one supposes – agreed with the new service being piloted.
So here we have the new politics, ladies and gentlemen. If the coalition government makes changes, it is hitting the poorest the most. They are people with evil intentions. They are nasty. Their policies are regressive, but if Labour had made those same changes – including spending cuts that would have had to take place – it would be spun as progressive politics.
I don’t agree with everything the coalition is doing. It is still keeping too much power in Whitehall and the choices it says it is giving to us are being decided by what it thinks we want, not actually what we want. It is making tough decisions, and like everything in politics, I am going to agree and disagree with those decisions. All I have seen from Labour – with the odd notable exception – is playground bully politics. Prescott will never change and he will never let the truth get in the way of frightening the voters. I had hoped at least one of the Labour leadership candidates would grow up, but alas it seems not to be. None of them seem fit to lead a major political party and certainly none of them deserve the title of statesman.