As we all braced ourselves to disentangle what Alistair Darling’s last Budget will mean for the NHS I took the conscious decision to write an upbeat column to ease the circling gloom.
Plenty of gloom around. Unlike Barack Obama’s historic win on US healthcare reform, Andy Burnham’s more modest Personal Care at Home Bill now seems hamstrung by the Lords. In the short term at least, it damages the wider search for an election proof consensus on social care of the elderly.
Paul Burstow has introduced a bill to require future secretaries of state to report annually on his/her dementia strategy and to require local authorities to take it seriously
Burnham’s bill was foisted on Young Andy by Old Gordon. As such the outcome is much as predicted here - unlike the spectacle of Patricia Hewitt being caught boasting about her capacity to influence government policy to a “lobbyist” who turned out to be The Sunday Times.
Oh dear. It is Steve (“I’m like a cab for hire”) Byers who looks in serious trouble, but it is bad for Hewitt, bad for Labour, bad for her NHS reform agenda even to be touched by such a tacky issue.
Right, let’s cheer up. It isn’t difficult. MPs still strive to do good as the election clock ticks. Here are three samples. Paul Burstow (Lib Dem, Sutton and Cheam) has introduced a bill to require future secretaries of state to report annually on his/her dementia strategy and to require local authorities to take it seriously.
Why the disease which Alois Alzheimer first described 100 years ago? Because the 700,000 (maybe 800,000) sufferers are set to double as the boomers age.
Every patient costs £27,647 a year - cancer patients just £6,000 - the total bill £23bn, not all to the NHS.
GPs, in denial, must diagnose sooner. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence must back ameliorative drugs like Aricept, as Stephen O’Brien promises the Tories will support.
Minister Phil Hope says the government is doing well. It is, but can do better.
Who’s next? Step up, David Borrow (Lab, South Ribble), who is campaigning for legislation which would address the organ shortage by introducing to Britain the concept of “mandated choice” for organ donation.
People would be required by law to register whether they want their organs used, don’t want them used or want their family to decide after their death. That makes sense, doesn’t it? But don’t expect action before polling day.
Last but not least, my sample Tory, Wellingborough’s Peter Bone, whose constituent’s story might bring tears to your eyes. Zac Knighton-Smith is five and has a horrible form of cancer called neuroblastoma, which attacks the sympathetic nervous system and spreads.
It affects 100 children a year, including Zac’s cousin, whom it killed. Surgery, 24/7 chemo, radiography, stem cell transplants, always at risk of lethal infection, the boy has had it all - just for a 20 per cent survival chance. Due to an infection he missed the chance to take part in a trial for a radical new US cure, monoclonal antibody therapy, which has a 70 per cent rate of success.
It is a familiar story, but stay with me. If we can raise the money for treatment in New York it would save the NHS “up to four times as much in the long run”, the MP said in a Commons debate. Wonderful, but expensive at a time when funds are under pressure. Time is running out for Zac.
Then a rare Commons miracle! Minister Ann Keen (whom Bone praised in generous terms), set out how patients like Zac had failed stringent official funding tests until - until - a meeting at EU level two weeks ago when it was agreed that all European kids who would benefit could join the trials.
Visiting Great Ormond Street hospital puts all adult woes into perspective, Keen added. Quite so. Remember that, Steve Byers.