In Jack Straw’s memoirs the former home secretary notes there are now four times as many lawyers as there were a generation ago, all of them looking for gainful employment.
On top of the Department of Health’s long list of urgent woes, lawyers may now sue it over “Uncle Jimmy” Savile’s misconduct during his long career as a saintly volunteer and fundraiser inside NHS hospitals such as Stoke Mandeville, Leeds General and Broadmoor.
Oh dear, where do we draw the line? So many people are now saying that they or family members were abused by that strange celebrity, so many saying they “knew” he was dodgy but couldn’t prove it, that it seems we are all guilty.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt didn’t need this distraction on top of all the others, but at least it can’t be blamed on him. At the BBC and elsewhere, half-blind eyes appear to have been turned for decades.
That’s important whenever we are in danger of losing perspective.
In the “good old days”, bad things we now know to be wrong were tolerated (organ retention, sloppy nuclear waste disposal, child abuse), but are now exposed. Are we happier in ignorance or wiser for knowing the truth, albeit sadder?
The latter, I think. Not everyone agrees, although the cost of transparency is high in terms of trust in loved institutions.
We can’t change the past. But Mr Hunt should be more alarmed at new guidance to GPs that requires them to register foreign patients for treatment, allegedly on human rights grounds. Panorama and Tory MPs such as Chris Skidmore are on the case.
At a private session of last week’s Tory conference, John Redwood cited it as the kind of spending cut which would be right and popular (along with better NHS billing of foreign patients). It’s something Hunt can act on in the name of fairness and economy.
Dead paedophiles are a different matter. As NHS finance directors facing the rising cost of health litigation know to their trust’s cost, Labour’s contingency fee reforms have encouraged some of the wrong people. Daytime TV is full of ads urging viewers to sue someone.
Liz Dux (“keen skier, tourist and foodie”), the personal injury lawyer leading the charge against Stoke Mandeville and the BBC, once won a case for a government lawyer who developed a “psychiatric injury” after being required to watch too much porn for work. Hmm.
I’m not convinced that such claims solve much except lawyers’ ski-holiday bills. My tabloid friends insist they tried to nail Uncle Jimmy, but he proved too cunning, too litigious, too famous and that witnesses were few and shaky.
Given their zeal for persecuting/hacking some celebs, I’m not persuaded. As for politicians, few of my contacts seem keen to discuss this one.
Labour’s Andy Burnham tells me he’s amazed that Savile was appointed to a role at Broadmoor, let alone given facilities and keys. Frank Dobson (1997-99) tells me Savile was like the banks - “too big to fail.”
After Mid Staffordshire and elsewhere we all know that Dobson’s whistleblowing legislation was not enough to protect NHS careers in a bullying culture, let alone when a saintly celeb volunteer is involved.
Dobbo distinguishes between the wholesome acceptance of hospital or school volunteers’ motives (suspicion can be corrosive) and the need to vet those with special access.
It’s easy to be wise after an event. When Dobson vetoed a plan to break up special hospitals like Broadmoor into local units during the 1999-2001 reforms, he took a lot of stick. No thanks for being right, I’m afraid.
Michael White writes about politics for The Guardian.