It was revealed this week that the government has suppressed a report from Ipsos MORI that showed record levels of satisfaction with healthcare in Britain. The poll carried out for the government has been with the Department of Health for six months but never made public.
This is cynical politics at its worst. We have seen ministers trotting out a series of selective, misleading and in some cases actually false statistics and claims about how bad healthcare is in Britain. They claimed, for example, that a patient was twice as likely to die of a heart attack in Britain as in France. This error was exposed in the BBC radio programme ‘More or Less’. They claimed that the UK infant mortality was the worst in Western Europe. This is just not true. Infant mortality in this country is not the best in Europe but it is by no means the worst, there are at least three countries with worse figures. They claimed that breast cancer survival in this country is ‘among the worst in the OECD’. Again this is not true. Breast cancer survival in Britain has improved faster than in any other European country, our figures are currently about average, and it is expected that in the next year or so our results will be better than those in France.
These and other claims were about to be put to the recent Liberal Democrat Conference, but were withdrawn when I pointed out the errors. Instead ministers produced another set of figures, equally misleading.
Now it seems that at the same time as trying to show how bad the NHS is, the Government has been suppressing the results of a survey because it was good news. You have to ask why they should do this?
The answer I am afraid is simple but quite disgraceful. For five years Andrew Lansley has had a plan for giving away large chunks of the NHS to private companies. To justify his plan, which he calls ‘the most radical shake up the NHS has had in 60 years’ he needed to portray the NHS as being in crisis.
For a while the public have been fooled by claims that the Lansley proposals would give choice to patients and power to the GP, but I am glad to say that now that more and more people are waking up to the damage that will be done by these proposals if they go ahead. As always, the devil is in the detail. Budget responsibility may be passed to a local commissioning body, but those bodies will be heavily regulated by a National Commissioning Board and can be dissolved at the will of the Secretary of State for Health. At the same time the Secretary of State intends to duck the responsibility for the NHS. At present the buck stops with the Secretary of State who has the ultimate responsibility ‘to provide or secure a comprehensive health service’. Under the Lansley proposals, the Secretary of State will only have an obligation to promote such a service.
So it seems that Lansley wanted to pretend there was a crisis so that he could rush in to ‘save’ the NHS with his cunning plan. The public don’t want it. The doctors don’t want it. The hospitals don’t want it. Health service managers don’t want it and academic experts in Healthcare say that it will be damaging. But Andrew Lansley and lots of private companies do want it, so who will win?
We have only a few weeks left to persuade the government to change its mind. Campaigners have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures in two weeks, but the real thing that will make a difference is if everyone writes to David Cameron and Nick Clegg to ask them to stop before it is too late.
Ipsos MORI poll demonstrating satisfaction levels in the NHS was exposed by Toby Helm in the Observer 20/3/2011
38degrees.org.uk had collected 229633 signatures by 24/3/11
The Health and Social Care Bill 2010-11 has received its first and second readings in the House of Commons and started its committee stage on 8th February. The Bill Committee will then report back to the House of Commons before the third and final reading in the Commons.
The NHS White Paper “Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS” was published in July 2010 less than two months after the Government declared in the Coalition Programme that they would “stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care.”