Monday, 11 February 2008

Political expediency

The NHS in Greenwich, Bexley, Bromley and Lewisham is overspending annually by some £21 million. Naturally, it wants to reign this in, and a consultation document called A Picture of Health on how to do this is landing on our doormats soon.

Our local Green Party councillor in Ladywell must be very upset about this, as she has taken the momentous step of setting up a Facebook group. This, it transpires, is a joint venture, between the Greens, the Tories and the Lib Dems.

Excuse me for being a bit suspicious. A couple of years ago this unholy alliance came together to demand that Lewisham get rid of its elected mayor, alleging that the system as currently constituted gave one individual too much power.

Sure, there were flaws in the mayoral innovation, but the anti-mayoral caucaus ignored the glaring fact of systemic executive weakness in English local government and a consequent failure of both leadership and accountability. They offered no real solutions, and it seemed to be no more than an effort to collectively do down an elected representative with whom they disagreed.

And now they've come together to oppose local health plans. This appears even more opportunistic than the last time. Seeing the name of James Cleverly amongst the sainted defenders of the NHS will raise a chuckle in anyone who can remember what the Tories did to our Health Service.

I would be more inclined to believe in the justice of their cause if they actually advanced some arguments against the plans. As it is, the campaigners only offer a few platitudes of the "they're going to shut your local hospital" kind. For all I know, the best way to improve value for money health outcomes may well be to reduce the number of sites from which health care is offered, and this is indeed the argument that the NHS are making. If this is not the case, say so.

I freely admit that I know little of what is on the table, but I tend to begin from the premise that people running public services actually want to deliver for the public. Most of the time they also are in possession of the knowledge and expertise that the rest of us are not. Sadly for the poor voter and taxpayer, we often are not allowed to participate in real debate as we can only see issues through the distorted prism of a media seeking greater market share, and politicians seeking partisan advantage. Hence, I get suspicious when people tell me that something is bad and offer me no real evidence to show why that is so, other than an appeal to my prejudice or instinct.

In this instance, I am even more suspicious because I cannot see any reason for these people to be getting into bed together other than that of political advantage.


Anonymous said...

William, you are indeed a cynical man! All the local political parties and politicians, Labour included, are genuinely concerned at what is proposed in "A Picture of Health" and united in opposing the cuts in services. Labour politicians were invited to join the group the same as the other parties and said they would, but they don't seem to have got round to it yet. Greens have and will continue to work with whichever parties (bar extremists) are working towards a common goal on a particular issue, as in this case.

I would urge you to take a look at the proposals on the 'A Picture of Health' website, as they involve closing the A&E, maternity and paediatric departments at Lewisham Hospital and pretty much closing down Queen Mary's in Sidcup entirely. I don't think it makes sense to reduce services to local people to that extent, for the sake of £20m/year out of a total annual budget in the region of £1bn. The suggestion that Lewisham women should go to Bromley or Greenwich to give birth is ridiculous. It also doesn't make particular sense to group Lewisham together with Bromley, Bexley and Greenwich and not consider that for many residents, particularly those in the north of the borough, KCL or Guys would be the more natural hospital to go to than Bromley or Greenwich.

The consultation claims to be about improving standards of clinical care in the borough, but I am frankly sceptical that that is the driving force - it is much more about saving money to pay the interest on the huge PFI bills run up in Greenwich, Bromley and Lewisham.

I would urge you to read the consultation document yourself and then decide where the political spin lies!

William Canynge said...

Not so much a cynic, Sue, more a realist. I'm glad to see you advancing arguments about the proposals, which I have to say have been lacking from most of the public debate so far. In the absence of them it's easy to assume that concerted action by opposition parties (and you are getting into bed with the Tories here whose interest in NHS services is shaky to say the least) does look opportunist. What I'd say is that if you don't want to look like this, make sure your arguments are up front.