Published: 01/12/2005 Volume 115 No. 5984 Page 10
Even for those of us resolutely committed to not encouraging panic over all varieties of flu which may be heading our way this winter, it was a stormy few days. As the forecasters like to say, more bad weather may be on the way.
Tony Blair, as well as health secretary Patricia Hewitt, was drawn into the row over alleged shortages of vaccinations and the muddle over the fact that 11 million people may be in at-risk groups in England, but 14 million throughout the entire UK.
Since only 14 million jabs had been ordered it was clearly not 'far in excess of what was required' as the Department of Health's website had been claiming, although it wasn't a hanging offence either since most orders are placed by GPs according to local demand.
But politics is a contact sport. So the mere act of highlighting the discrepancy allowed Tory health spokesman Andrew Lansley to win brownie points (and promotion by David Cameron? ) for pointing it out.
A harassed Mr Blair will have been less than pleased, unless he was too busy with his separate error over gas prices: yes, they are now a lot higher here than in Europe, as NHS finance directors could have told him.
Coming in the week when Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, aired a rare 'threat-to-quit' row with his political bosses over the partial smoking ban (the bill began its noisy Parliamentary journey on Tuesday) - it all smacks of disorder and indiscipline.
And that sort of behaviour leads to defeat. As does the BrownBlair spat over pensions reform, after six months when the pair had been civil to each other. Will Brown dare to try and unpick that retirement-at-60 deal with public sector unions? He's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.
Watch this space.
Personally, I thought Ms Hewitt had a better case than the media conceded when she complained that there had been an unexpected surge in demand for flu vaccinations from the 'worried well' in late October. Take-up rates were running at only 50 per cent among the over-65s and 25 per cent among other at-risk groups - yet 'the stocks have already run out, ' a puzzled Ms Hewitt told irate MPs.
What she didn't do was blame GPs, though That is not how the press - which had helped to worry the worried well over avian flu - reported it. Instead the media tried and failed to whip up claims that Mr Blair and his pampered ministers had contributed to the shortage by getting jabs themselves.
Writing in The Times, a GP cheerfully described how one of the worried well, 'Mr Sixteen Stone Gorilla' he called him, comes into the surgery and asks for a jab.
Keen to offload what might otherwise be unused stock, the GP quickly establishes that Mr Gorilla plans to visit his elderly granny on Boxing Day, and gives him the jab to protect the old lady.
That sounds like real life to me, but it fails a key media test: there is no-one to blame, except perhaps itself for scaring Mr Gorilla into his irresponsible conduct in the first place.
It is the same with binge drinking, is not it? The same papers which harass Ms Hewitt and Tessa Jowell, the drinking culture secretary, for fomenting reckless boozing spent acres of Canadian forest sentimentalising the tragically wasted life of George Best.
Mr Best's legendary sense of flair ensured that he died on the first afternoon he could have stayed in the pub all day.
Ms Jowell got into Hewitt-ish trouble with the tabloids for 'admitting' that there would be more drink-related offences under the new regime. What she actually said was, with more coppers on patrol in publand, there will be more people charged with such offences. Not the same thing at all.
As with the latest debate on whether or not to deny surgery to fat people until they lose weight, ministers are expecting responsible conduct from people. Some of whom are not capable of sustained responsibility, which applies to all of us at some time or another.
I got into trouble with friends this week for suggesting that vulnerable young women who get legless on Friday nights are being irresponsible to themselves too. .
Michael White is political editor of The Guardian.