On Wednesday 15th February, David Cameron visited the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle. He intended to speak about the dangers of binge drinking. The Northern Echo reports how
he highlighted the cost of alcohol to the NHS after meeting doctors, nurses, paramedics and police officers.
Mr Cameron toured the hospital, which has a police officer on duty two nights a week to handle drunken incidents, with matron Angela McNab and paramedic Paul Fell.
If David Cameron has a knack, it’s for suiting his speeches to fit his audience. If this occasionally makes him look a bit like Mr Wobbly, well, it means his immediate audience is usually happy and he gets the all-important visuals as background for his Prime Ministerial self.
NHS staff, however, are unusually and uniformly unhappy with David Cameron, to an extent that even Margaret Thatcher didn’t share. Cameron’s bullish attempts to push the NHS into privatisation for the profit of his cronies is so unpopular with healthcare professionals that Cameron has not risked inviting anyone who works in healthcare to his summit to discuss his NHS Reform bill.
It might be argued that David Cameron is not the right person to talk about the dangers of binge drinking. Not because he used to be a Bullingdon Club member – a reformed drunk who admits that he used to do dangerously criminal things when under the influence and that’s why he knows it’s stupid, could be just the person to talk to other teenagers about why binge drinking is bad but if you sober up and are extremely wealthy you too could be as successful as him someday. Hm, maybe not. But because Cameron really didn’t seem to see a problem with binge drinking when he was a director of the company which runs the Tiger Tiger chain, where the cocktail Pink Pussy could be bought in jugs for £8. This came out when he was running for leader in 2005, and, like homophobia, it seems to have been one of the things he gave up when he wanted to lead the Tory party.
That may have been why journalists were locked away in waiting rooms when Cameron toured the Newcastle hospital. It would not do to have anyone making a snarky comment about Cameron’s days selling booze cheap or the days when he swilled booze expensively.
The police aren’t in favour of locking drunks up in “drunk tanks”, because as Paul McKeever, the chairman of the Police Federation, says:
“To recommend locking people up in so-called ‘drunk tanks’ to resolve the issue of binge drinking is dangerous. People who are very drunk can be vulnerable and often require medical attention, so locking them in a confined space is not an effective solution.”
But that turned out not to be Cameron’s real problem. Cameron’s problem is that while NHS staff are absolutely professional at all times… there are limits, at least to one nurse’s resolve. She said – and she was overheard by a visitor to the hospital –
Walked past Prime Minister in RVI, Newcastle. Nurse tells him: ‘I’m vehemently opposed to reforms they’re bad for patients & bad for care.’
— Alexander Hay (@Alex_Hay) February 15, 2012
Alexander Hay twittered this at 4:07 on Wednesday 15th February. There were no journalists around – they were locked up in a separate room; the nurse faces disciplinary action* for her comment; and all the staff had been told if they repeated what the nurse had said, they too would be disciplined and might lose their jobs. Apparently what is said to a perfectly healthy Prime Minister in the public corridors of an NHS hospital has medical confidentiality.
But you can’t stop someone overhearing and tweeting.
According to Eoin Clarke at the Green Benches,
The staff were never informed of the Prime Minister’s visit, and were affronted when Cameron arrived at their Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary. I am told that the entire staff refused to speak to the Prime Minister, and this caused quite a stir. It transpires that the shift manager (or matron- I cannot confirm which) was left to ‘handle the PM’. Cameron was also assigned close police protection for his entire time in the hospital. The PM was shepherded into the back corridors to give his interview in isolation, apparently because the grimaces and frowns of staff members would have caused an embarrassment. One staff member joked that the ‘only persons who were smiling was his police protection’.
And that’s how, as Eoin Clarke says, a visit that on Tuesday was being promoted as a high-profile speech against binge drinking and a walkabout at a hospital where they care for the drinkers brought in for medical attention – you know, kind of the opposite of Cameron’s plans for a drunk tank – turned into a furtive scuttle:
A member of the public got in touch to say that it was rumoured that Cameron had received a very cold reception from the staff. The complainant also stated that there had been a rumoured altercation, and it was rumoured that the press had been kept away. But unlike the days of old when Tony Blair’s encounter with an angry patient, or Gordon Brown’s famous encounter with Mrs Duffy was beamed onto our television screens, this time we have seen nothing but a faceless interview. This is censorship of the highest order and according to the complainant who got in touch, this undermines our free press.
If need be, I will publish the complainant’s letter, a little later, but first I would like some answers. What happened on David Cameron’s hospital visit yesterday? Did he speak to staff or patients, and if so why does the clip not show this? Did he meet with the press, and if so why do we not see any evidence of this? Why has the PM concealed the hospital or any interaction with the public?
Without the happenstance of a visitor to the hospital who could not be legally silenced overhearing the nurse’s comments and reporting them on Twitter, this story could still be sitting in the “no evidence” limbo. When David Cameron does not wish journalists to report accurately on the facts of his visits to hospitals, he can simply have them sidelined and order the hospital to silence their staff.
*Update, 23:36 –
“However the Prime Minister; looking stern and red in the face, simply dismissed this and reverted to scripted spin – failing to respond to the concern. The bemused staff member was then left in the lurch as the entourage moved on towards A&E, leaving behind other shocked members of staff.”
A spokesman for Mr Cameron insisted: “It’s completely untrue. The Prime Minister had good discussions with both nurses and doctors during the visit.” (Telegraph)
If it’s “completely untrue” does that mean the nurse won’t face disciplinary action for not saying it?*
Only a week before the visit, David Cameron was claiming on PMQ that
he believed “passionately” in the future of the NHS, “not least” because of the care his family had received from the health service.
“I want to see that excellent service implemented for everyone and that means two things: it means we have got to put more money in to the NHS, and we are putting the money in, but it also means we have got to reform the NHS.”
The top-down “restructuring” and privatisation of the NHS was not on the Tory manifesto for the 2010 election. In fact, David Cameron explicitly claimed he wasn’t going to touch the NHS. This is purely and simply a matter of the vultures descending, the healthcare companies that see the NHS not as a healthcare service but purely and simply as a source of profit – a billion-dollar industry. The kind of stuff we heard from Julie Meyer on Thursday night at BBC Question Time.
— EdinburghEye (@EyeEdinburgh) February 17, 2012
Great lunch with Andy Richards at Mews of Mayfair cooking up some collaboration between Entrepreneur Country and Medical Futures ….
— Julie Meyer (@JulieMarieMeyer) February 12, 2012
As Eoin Clarke reports: Shutting the journalists away from the Prime Minister and silencing the staff and keeping even the patients out of the way is not standard procedure for when a Prime Minister visits a hospital. Cameron needs to do this because he needs very much to try to claim that his loosing the vultures on the NHS is welcome at grassroots level.
So far 147,156 people have signed the e-petition that
Calls on the Government to drop its Health and Social Care Bill.
And 504,330 people have signed the Take Action – Protect our NHS petition at 38 Degrees.
But the future of the NHS actually depends on about 22 MPs, LibDems or Tories, who are willing to stand up against David Cameron and Nick Clegg and their pary apparatus and vote to kill the bill. So far, the Bill has kept passing with a comfortable government majority. Either the LibDems and Tories who vote for it don’t understand it – entirely possible, since the government is refusing to publish the Risk Register.
That this House expects the Government to respect the ruling by the Information Commissioner and to publish the risk register associated with the Health and Social Care Bill reforms in advance of Report Stage in the House of Lords in order to ensure that it informs that debate.
Kath Viner tweeted, when Julie Meyer was booed by the BBC Question Time audience on Thursday:
Think Julie Meyer hasn’t quite realised how much British people love the NHS #bbcqt
— Katharine Viner (@KathViner) February 16, 2012
But David Cameron knows we love the NHS. That’s why he didn’t want anyone watching when he made a speech from an NHS hospital last Wednesday. He’s been Twittered – but will it be the final straw that convinces just enough MPs being whipped to vote for the NHS Reforms that for the sake of their Parliamentary careers past 2015 they really, really have to kill the bill? That won’t end the danger to the NHS – as Tim Montgomerie at ConHome notes, virtually everything that Cameron wants to do to the NHS he can do by statutory instrument, quietly and without fuss. But it will ensure that the huge wash of reforms won’t go through right now.
Especially if you have a Tory or LibDem MP representing you, you can write to ask them to vote against the Bill. There is not much time left. On 22nd February there is a vote in the House of Commons to publish the Risk Register.
There is a third reading in the House of Lords on 27th February, and a final debate and vote in the House of Commons after that, and then the Bill receives Royal Assent and becomes law, and the NHS, sixty-four years old this year, is handed over to the vultures.