I was nursing a cold and watching the Commons EU debate on the telly at home when I was startled to hear David Nuttall, the Tory MP leading the anti-European charge, blame those wily foreigners for the imminent closure of the maternity ward and special care baby unit in his Lancashire constituency.
“Sincere but stupid,” was my instant reaction. I might even have tweeted it.
Of course, the impact of the EU’s clumsy working time directive adds to NHS costs and is unpopular (what happened to the promised Brussels review?) right across the 27 member states, although it also saves lives. It should mind its own business. But the idea that the directive was “one of the driving forces” behind the protracted battle at Fairfield Hospital in Bury is surely misleading.
Even I, who only occasionally visit Greater Manchester, know that a hotly contested restructuring of the area’s maternity arrangements – concentrating on eight centres, including three of “excellence” – long predates the working time directive. When did Hazel Blears, ex-public health minister and MP for Salford, tell me – and HSJ readers – how important it had been to persuade constituency mums that their babies will (probably) be safer in a specialist unit? Years ago.
MP Nuttall’s gloss bothers me because it perfectly illustrates the weakness of the Euro-sceptic case, even without the folly of a refo-row when the eurozone is close to meltdown.
I voted yes to Europe in 1975 (like Mrs T) and would also have voted no to the euro if we’d had a vote on it. But the idea that Bury – ex-mill town home of black pudding and Victoria Wood – wouldn’t have had a problem over acute sector provision if Britain left the EU (or “took back powers”) is fantasy, stupid too.
Pennine Acute Trust, of which Bury is part, is the second largest in the country. It has struggled for years with poor health outcomes, as well as structures and funding, although its debts are now clawed back I am pleased to read.
As for every trust, its Nicholson challenge – saving an annual 4.5 per cent or £25m for five years – is daunting.
But it’s always worth repeating that most such problems are self-inflicted by poor leadership, in Whitehall or NHS management. “Brussels” or “human rights” is usually just a scapegoat.
It was Gordon Brown, not Angela Merkel, who relied too much on bankers’ taxes to fund NHS expansion. It was David Cameron, Andrew Lansley – and candidate Nuttall, I expect – who raised false hopes at Fairfield before the election.
Right. Let’s end on a more positive note.
Health secretary Lansley had some good data on improving healthcare in 2010-11 when MPs held an (oh-too-familiar) Labour-initiated NHS debate to mark Andy Burnham’s combative return. Good, although it’s silly of Lansley to talk of Labour’s “shocking legacy” when there is abundant evidence of better outcomes under Blair/Brown – gains now at risk from service cuts.
Chris Skidmore, a mouthy new Tory MP and member of the Dorrell select committee, also slapped Burnham with a couple of low blows, courtesy of access to the DH ministerial budget.
Was it necessary to spend £115,759 on his personal chauffeur, £3.65m on first class rail travel for senior officials, £1.7m on luxury hotels up to £547.87 a night, asked the MP.
Always on the lookout for new talent, I was more impressed by the thoughtful speech from Jeremy Lefroy, new Tory MP for Stafford in NHS-crisis-hit Mid Staffordshire, about the challenges of integration and better staff training. He’s married to a GP/medical lecturer which must help. A better bet for promotion, I’d say, than David Nuttall.