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PMQs sketch: Miliband’s NHS torment

24 April 2013

Back to business at PMQs. Our ailing NHS, and its many-headed crises, were today’s key battle-ground. We hear of sick people being parked in ever tinier and more humiliating confinements: corridors, trolleys, airing cupboards, pill depositories, laundry baskets, spare gaps between drinks’ machines. All these locations, and worse, are currently sheltering patients awaiting the healing touch of some NHS miracle-worker.

Today Miliband told us of a pop-up ward which has been raised, like a Punch and Judy tent, in the grounds of some calamity-hit hospital. Plenty of ammo there to chuck at the PM. But Miliband couldn’t bring any colour or vitality to his arguments. He used percentages and numbers instead. Rather unwise. Statistics, on the page, always promise to reveal some dramatic and important truth. But recited out loud they just float off like bubbles and go pop.

Listening to a column of figures about waiting lists is like being stuck on a waiting list yourself. You pray for the torment to end. Miliband had that effect today. And Cameron defended his favourite public service with energy and guile. He cited the example of Wales where Labour is running health with astounding ineptitude. Miliband took umbrage at this and praised the last Labour government for hiring more nurses and cutting waiting lists. Cameron was ruthless: ‘Anyone who wants to read about Labour’s record should see the report into Mid-Staffordshire Hospital.’

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This drew a sheepish and belated admission from Miliband. Mid-Staffs, he condeded, ‘had indeed been terrible.’ A poor outing for the Labour leader today. More than subdued and distracted, he seemed almost half-zonked. Perhaps a rival had slipped a Valium into his elevenses. Gone were the quips and grace-notes and ironic asides that he likes to sprinkle around when his confidence is up. And his closing soundbite – the NHS isn’t safe with the Tories – was as over-used as Tony Benn’s tea-pot. The conspiracy rumours may have put him off his game. His poll lead remains impressive but it’s like a spun-sugar bauble on a wedding cake. It could shatter at the lightest touch. Worse still, the wonder-drug that inspired New Labour for so long  – the collective memory of the 1992 defeat – has lost its power to energise and unite.

Labour’s backbenchers tried their usual trick of depicting Cameron as an elitist parasite. How much would he gain personally from the lower top-rate of income tax? asked Susan Elan Jones. Cameron always rushes the answer to this question. He blurted out that the council tax freeze, and the rise in personal allowances, would lighten the burden for everybody. But he sounded uncomfortable.

When Tristram Hunt’s name came up, things changed. Hunt always brings a particular light to the PM’s eyes. Like a lion spotting his most formidable rival – another lion – across the simmering savannah, Cameron takes guard with a certain admiring steeliness in his countenance. Hunt scowled coldly and demanded to know why rising energy prices are giving our European rivals a competitive advantage

Cameron answered him, toff to toff, but added a hint of condescension which he knew would drive Hunt crazy. It was regrettable, smirked Cameron, that Hunt felt unable to praise the Chancellor for bestowing numerous tax breaks on the lucky industrialists of Stoke.

Even as Cameron patronised him, Hunt was frowning and chewing and muttering vengeful imprecations like some gnarled witch in a Gothic fairytale. ‘Perhaps the milk of kindness runs a little thin,’ said Cameron, needling him further.

Hunt ground his molars together, and aimed a hate-glare at the Prime Minister through his matted eyebrows. It was great stuff.

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Show comments
  • nowruk

    Best question of the day was Angus Robertson’s on the donation of £500,000 by Ian Taylor,Vitol’s chief exectutive,to the unionist No campaign in Scotland.

    Robertson asked,”Mr Taylor’s company Vitol has admitted dealings with the notorious
    Serbian war criminal Arkan who was indicted for … ‘wilfully causing
    great suffering, cruel treatment, murder, wilful killing, rape, and
    other inhuman acts’.
    “Will the Prime Minister stop hosting Mr Taylor at Downing Street and give the money back.”

    Cameron’s answer was,of course,pathetic in its arrogance and ignorance.

  • Renie Anjeh

    The thing is that Labour is trusted on the NHS. The Tories are not at all. Wales is a different example because the government cut spending for Wales, which led to the Welsh government after trebling the NHS budget decided to have a 1% cut to invest in education, where standards have been low. Also, the Welsh NHS outperforming England in many ways and are not seeing the brutal reforms that are happening under the Coalition.

    • Tom Tom

      Not sure anyone is trusted on the NHS. It is simply out of control and run by chaos

      • Renie Anjeh

        Sorry but if you look at the polls, Labour is far, far, far ahead when it comes to trust on the NHS. They have a 30-point poll lead on the NHS, and that will be an asset come 2015. Margaret Thatcher never touched the NHS for a reason, Cameron did and he did it without a mandate. People will punish him for it.

  • nol west
  • anyfool

    Cameron was not that good today, but Miliband is really abysmal and things are going to get a lot worse for him, the only thing today that could be construed as not a minus is that Labour is starting to get the message across that Stafford was a one off and not a small part of a larger scandal, that will last till the next report comes out.

  • Barbara Stevens

    We can all assume we know what’s going on within the NHS, but actually expeiriencing it is quite different. I’ve said before, and will repeat it again, all is not well. I know from training in it, working in it, during the 60/70s when things were well. Now its different. My husband recently died, while being told he was terminally ill I was also told he would have to vacate his NHS bed. Where I would put this dying man, who had paid his dues for 44 years, NI stamps. He simply shook his shoulders and said ‘I don’t know’. I refused and exercised his rights as a British citizen. Yes we still exsist.
    Yet, the very same hospital housed, fed, and treated an illegal immigrant for 12 months for free, why didn’t they need his bed?
    It may sound like sour grapes but its more than that; its anger, when one sees ones’ loved ones abused in such circumstances unable to fight back because of weakness. Nurses who were absent, well not available but sat in nursing stations chatting and on computers, and HCA who refused to change a urine soaked patient, but sat watching TV, you have a right to be angry. This is what we are paying taxes for. HCA who cannot speak English, and abuse the job they have been given, are untrained, and lack the right skills to be in the job in the first place. To see trained nurses absent from giving structured jobs to these people, and the care the lowest I’ve seen in all the years I nursed. You need to worry if your elderly relatives go into the NHS, the pathway scheme is imposed upon you if you let it be, I refused, and was laughed at. Hospitals for the elderly are becoming ways to reduce the elderly population legally. You have been warned, take care and be viligent.

    • tele_machus

      I am so so sorry for your loss
      We however need to remotivate and manage the nurses who are our lost fellow human beings

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        No we need to fire them and get them off the public payroll. I am, for one, sick of paying for the lazy incompetent nurses.

    • Tom Tom

      The NHS has been used to employ unemployable ancillaries and mop up the dysfunctional, imposing a huge burden on the competent who end up burned out.

  • Magnolia

    Ed worked for Mr Brown.
    Ed sounds like Mr Brown.
    Ed as deadly as Mr Brown?!

    Dave made a mistake in his response to the toff income question, which irked.
    He said “I will pay every appropriate tax but like everybody else, every single tax-payer in this country is benefiting from the rise in the personal allowance that we put in place.”
    Now HMRC says that there is a limit for the personal allowance of £100,000, ie. no PA for earners over £10K, so did Dave get this wrong and presumably forget that his pay is above that which qualifies for any tax free personal allowance or was it our old friend obfuscation again?
    Of course we all know that those who earn over £10K are filthy rich ba****ds who don’t deserve to keep any of their own income, without the state taking its share, no matter how many spouses, kids, aged Ps, old dogs, cats, hamsters and the like they happen to be supporting, do they?
    Just asking?

  • toco10

    Never mind the NHS, Labour simply cannot be trusted with anything more than rank hypocrisy but relating back to the NHS the Royal College of Nursing and its trades union leader Carter should accept the Francis report in its entirety and in addition to enhanced training which encompasses a caring understanding of elderly patients he should also promote a vastly more disciplined examination of his members understanding of the English language.My recent experience of three major hospitals in London and the South East has shown attitude and the inability to communicate in and understand the English language in a pretty basic way to be wholly unacceptable and unjustifiably arrogant.

  • lgrundy

    “Hunt scowled coldly and demanded to know why rising energy prices are giving our European rivals a competitive advantage”

    I can answer that one. Labour’s Climate Change Act 2008 – as cobbled together by one Ed Miliband.

    • Tim Reed


  • Russell

    Miliband says hospitals are full to bursting and wants to put another 45oo nurses in them! Probably the obese incompetent ones who waddle about all day playing with computers and performing Trade Union duties as Pilgrims instead of nursing, and have been got rid of over the last 3 years.

    • tele_machus

      Oh dear
      You make the mistake of reading the press characterisation of the few incompetent Stafford nurses
      The majority are caring hardworking and underpaid and deserve our thanks
      We cannot become like China where doctors and nurses are abused when a clinical outcome (natural) is not good

      • Barbara Stevens

        No he is not he’s speaking the truth. There will be many more hospitals falling into Staffords category when the press get the news out. I’ve one I could mention but can’t for legal reasons.

        • tele_machus

          You have said as such before and I am sorry for your experiences
          However Russell is out of order in his gross generalisations

          • Nicholas chuzzlewit

            Oh and you never generalise! “We need to build for growth” and a similar, endless stream of meaningless, generalised nonsense. Stop polluting every debate with provocative nonsense and leave it to adults to have a grown up discussion.

      • David B

        One thousand two hundred deaths. – if it had been a war zone the person responsible would be taken to The Hague.

        Labour need to face up to the disaster they caused in the NHS and brushing it off as a few nurses as you have done is the ultimate insult to the families

        • tele_machus

          The disaster was caused by the years of under investment during the 18 years of Tory mismanagement
          It was uncovered under Labour

          • David B

            Those that refuse to recognise their mistakes are destined to repeat them. Labour will destroy the NHS if it gets in again

          • Span Ows

            tele…this is desperate even for your standards.

        • Simon Maginn

          Oh please not this again.

          Challenge: Can anyone NAME a single person who died needlessly at Mid Staffs?


          The Francis report states quite clearly it would be ‘unsafe and misleading’ to cite any figure at all. The independent expert who reviewed EVERY case where relatives had concerns told Francis he could find ‘perhaps one’ excess or unusual death.

          Perhaps one.

          There is no memorial to the 1200 dead at Mid Staffs. There has been no ceremony, no wreaths, no two minute silence. Ever wondered why not?

          Because they don’t exist. They never existed. That’s why.

          No can you all stop it with the 1200 deaths please?

          • David B

            There are numerous names in the press of people who died in Mid Staff. I am not going to repeat them as I am not connected to them, but google will provide a decent list.

            The 1200 is a statistical analyises of the likely outcome, like all statistical analysis it has flaws, but what it does show is the miss management of the NHS and why labour and the unions are so afraid of it.

            If you dislike statistical analysis you should address:

            1. Tax cut for millionaires
            2. People evicted because of bedroom “tax”
            3. To fast and to deep

            All analysis that don’t even have back statistics

            • Simon Maginn

              No, there aren’t.

              Name one.

              Just one.

              I don’t understand the relevance of the rest of your post.

      • Fergus Pickering

        If they were all suich angels why was the place such a shithole? I expect the guards at Auschwitz had their good sides.

        • tele_machus

          As in all walks of life they were not led
          The managers should be held to account
          The ultimate manager is Nicholson and he now runs the whole show
          Hunt needs to get a grip

          • Nicholas chuzzlewit

            So there should be a manager sitting on the shoulder of every nurse in every hospital all of the time to remind them that the need to make food and drink accessible, to ensure that patients have not soiled their beds, to ensure that patients are able to visit the toilet etc etc. Your comment is as imbecelic, inhumane and disgusting as the nurses who failed to provide the most basic care to vulnerable people at mid staffs. There were clearly failings at all levels but to place the blame solely at the door of management is lazy and cowardly. Indeed, the personal characteristics of a typical socialist. Hunt is trying to sort this out but this should have been dealt with by that preening, sanctimonious little bore Andy Burnham.

  • tele_machus

    Not the way I saw this
    Miliband is on fertile ground grinding the NHS
    Whatever Cameron says he let Lansley make him vulnerable to all the woes of the NHS
    The public “know” that you cannot trust the Tories with the public services and we know that month on month we will get NHS horror stories
    The public “know” that these are Camerons fault for letting Lansley butcher the service
    More they see pleased with himself Hunt grinning out of their TVs trying to defend the service and they “know” he cannot be sincere
    Miliband should keep hammering at this

    • Russell

      The NHS PATIENTS are not safe in labour hands….This needs repeating over and over again to ensure the murderers are not let loose again.

      • tele_machus

        You made that crazy assertion on another thread

        and my response bears repeat:

        You’re playing a dangerous game
        Patients are falling off trolleys in Casualty
        Patients are lost in Hospitals after being slung out to the wrong beds on the wrong wards
        And all because the Tories tried to bring in a 111 service staffed by college dropouts rather than trained nurses to replace NHS direct

        • Fergus Pickering

          I’m sure the new telephone service is bad but NHS Direct was utterly useless. I suggest we don’t have one at all. Waste of time and money.

          • tele_machus

            So who do you call when you are sick?

            • Fergus Pickering

              When I am sick I see a bloody doctor, not some prat at the end of a phone line who is diagnosing what they haven’t seen. Did YOU ever ring NHS Direct? Thought not.

        • Big Harry

          and according to you its Thatchers fault. Would be hilarious except for the death camp statistics

    • Russell

      You cannot trust labour with Bank regulation, the NHS, Immigration, Control of MP’s expenses, War, The Armed Forces, Education……the list is endless.

      • HookesLaw

        Yet UKIPs policy is to hand govt to labour.

      • Shazza

        The Labour Party aka the Party of Mass Destruction

        • Big Harry

          and if Staffs is anything to judge by, mass killings covered up by the state

    • Chris lancashire


      • tele_machus

        But mighty effective

        • Chris lancashire

          No, just weak.

          • HookesLaw

            indeed, ‘weak weak weak’

    • Barbara Stevens

      You are wrong and are showing you don’t really have any idea about the NHS, respect those who have knowledge of it and know, if you do then your looking through thick glasses that need cleaning.

      • Big Harry

        If someone dies on a ward of dehydration, starvation, complications from bed sores becoming infected, etc etc, then there is clearly neglect. The people working the ward, in contact with the patient/victim, who are that person/victims care givers, the doctors and nurses, are primarily responsible for the deaths as the patient is respondiong to their care or lack of. Yes or no, and if no why not ?. The stance from the left is equivalent to saying a hit and run driver is not responsible for the death, the CEO of the car manufacture company is. Unless that CEO supports Labour of course, then you blame the next available Tory.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      The NHS Unions are safe in Labour’s hands the patients are not and that is something the public of all political persuasions is beginning to recognise.

      • Renie Anjeh

        Which explains why Labour has a very strong 30-point poll lead on the NHS!

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