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Imagine the uproar if a Tory minister proposed a “do-it-yourself” NHS?

3 February 2014

Consider these two stories. In the first the government approves new proposals to overhaul hospital outpatient care. For once there isn’t even much of a pretence that this will improve healthcare. It’s simply a question of saving money.

Assuming the new proposals are implemented, many outpatients who had hitherto enjoyed (or endured) hospital appointments will be told to stay at home. Indeed they will be advised to “treat themselves”. What contact they have with a consultant will be of the “virtual” kind. Perhaps a quick telephone call if they are lucky. More likely, they will be told to download an app to their phone which will tell them how to manage their condition or affliction.

In other words, a DIY NHS. Or, if you prefer, some real privatisation. The NHS: contracted out to the patient. Patients will be expected, a government spokesman concedes, “to monitor and manage their own conditions“.

Imagine the uproar! The BBC and Channel 4 News would lead on this, the papers would pile in. Columnists would be outraged. There would be a national “debate” and, by god, the service would be defended against the barbarians threatening the holy National Health Service in this fashion.

But today? Not a cheap. But this was Scotland on Sunday’s splash yesterday. A good story, I thought. But the BBC didn’t cover the story yesterday and you won’t find it mentioned on the BBC website this morning either. There has, I think, been no significant follow-up.

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Perhaps this is because a) it’s only a Scotland story and b) it’s an SNP government not a Conservative ministry proposing these cuts.

Nothing can be done about the latter but, as I say, I doubt a Tory government would be granted such a pass. Especially not in Scotland. As it happens, these proposals (probably) have considerable merit but that’s a different and largely unrelated matter.

A reminder, then, that the perception of motive matters. Parties of the left can actually cut 10% of NHS outpatient appointments knowing that though such moves may be met by grumbling there will be no firestorm. And, in the devolved territories, even if there is a rumpus you can bet that said cuts will be blamed on, well, on George Osborne. We wouldn’t do this, you understand, but evil George Osborne is making us do it. Heads the Tories lose and tails they lose too. They are responsible even for things that have nothing to do with them. After all, according to the Scottish health minister, Margaret Thatcher drove Scots to drink.

Contrast this with the entirely manufactured fuss over Michael Gove’s decision not to reappoint Sally Morgan to a second term as head of Ofsted, the schools inspectorate in England. Gove is “playing politics” and “compromising” Ofsted’s independence. Baroness Morgan is obviously being shunted aside because Gove would like to replace her with a more reliable – and pliant! – Conservative figure. And, of course, she’s probably being denied a second term because Gove, like all other Conservatives, hates women.

Because, well, because obviously.

It doesn’t seem to matter half a jot that Gove appointed Morgan, a Labour figure, to the post in the first place. You would think that might count for something but apparently not.

Well, fine, politics is often a deeply stupid and juvenile game. But the contrast between these two stories and, more significantly, how they are reported tells us something about how the game is played.

Of course Gove has plenty of supporters within the media (not least at the Spectator I’m pleased to observe) and of course the press – in Scotland – is not uniformly gentle with the SNP. But it is always useful to see which kinds of stories get “traction” and which do not and to wonder why that may be the case. Stories which confirm longstanding presumptions do well; those that contradict them do not.

As I say, imagine the uproar if a Tory minister proposed “self-care” as a means of cutting inefficiency and saving money? It might be a good idea but that wouldn’t matter, would it?

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Show comments
  • Matt James

    Imagine if the Affordable Care Act proves to be the catalyst for a Universal Health Care System then imagine if the US, upon discovering just how much more efficient and equitable it really is just boots all for profit private health insurers to mars? Think of all the money that would be saved! No time (or money) for ideology here, for profit private health insurance firms must go, no amount of nitpicking and BS and turning the tables on who are the idealists will change that. And doing your best to pick at any failing of the NHS is just clutching at straws, its been left by the Tories to be ransacked by the likes of Bupa and they are health fund terrorists. Giving these jerks privilege to rob innocent people and decimate health funds nation by nation has become a global right wing sport (they are staying clear of America, but they are ‘partnering’ with US looter Blue Cross/Blue Shield, first time out of the states for them, I wonder why?). They ride on armies of right leaning journalists pumping out one article after another, constantly beating everyone over the head with this mantra that privatization and the free market along with their Magic Money Tree, The Stock Exchange, are the most well oiled machines for every industry. That may or may not be true for others but when it comes to health its just ideologue mandated BS.

  • Xrayspecs

    It works both ways. Perhaps we could examine why the media including the BBC gave almost no coverage to the Coalitions demolition of the English NHS, which they had expressly promised not to subject to reorganisation, to the MPs and peers with interests in private health companies who voted for the legislation, and to the promises about the NHS in the Coalition manifesto which have been cynically broken…

    Odd that we heard so little about it.

  • saffrin

    With the state of today’s NHS, many patients are forced into doing it themselves already.
    The managers at my local GP surgery are making it so difficult to get an appointment, they’ll soon have an excuse to sack the medical staff.
    My local hospital is just as bad.
    Too many Chiefs, not enough Indians.

  • leoinlisbon

    This seems to be an extension of a practice being used by G.P.s. At the Health Centre where I am registered, you phone the receptionist and explain your problem and the G.P. phones you back later. This is your consultation. The option of a traditional face-to-face consultation is not available.
    In Scotland, it is difficult to say where mediocre journalism – an endemic problem – ends and a policy of ignoring failure in the public sector starts.

  • MichtyMe

    Didn’t imagine you as technophobe Alex and am not surprised there is no uproar, there is no political story here. The NHS is introducing modern telecom and IT where appropriate. Been doing this pioneering work on this for years in the far flung locations so that an Achiltibuie resident need not spend two days on a journey to Inverness for a 10 minute appointment.

    • HookesLaw

      if you nread his article he was not particularly quibbling with the spirit oif the ‘reforms’ – he was pointihjng to the ‘perception of motive’. And he is quite right. And he is right about the totally manufactured row over OFSTED.

  • ChuckieStane

    Alex, you correctly point out that the Scottish press is “not uniformly gentle with the SNP”, in fact with the possible exception of the Herald, all “Scottish” dailies and Scottish editions of London titles are staunchly against indy.
    The lack of scrutiny of current policies (rather than the indy issue) by either the media or the Holyrood opposition is a result of their concentration on independence scare stories and constant portrayal of Salmond the bogeyman.
    Lamont and Davidson complain about Scotland being on hold for the referendum yet every week they lead on the Indy issue or Salmond-bashing. The press follow a similar line. Quite frankly it is lazy journalism and sadly tainted with excessive bias. That this leads to the SNP avoiding proper scrutiny of their day-to-day governence is ironic.
    When the London press pack bother themselves to write about Scotland their lack of understanding of Scottish politics is remarkable. It is also notable that a staunchly anti-independence London press does nothing to embrace Scottish politics and thereby demonstrate their one-nation credentials. There are interesting issues in Scotland regarding stop and search, curriculum for excellence, corroboration etc that could be covered UK wide and provide interesting comparisons with UK policies, yet they are invisible in the London editions or the national news on broadcast media.
    The partisan laziness of the Scottish media and the total indifference of their UK counterparts has contributed in no small part to the disconnect that is driving the indy movement forward.

    • Wessex Man

      Instead of blaming London Press why don’t you just big up and tell the truth, this is a Scottish National Health initiative brought into being under devolved matters by a SNP Minister. I have yet to see anywhere in the UK Press any mention of it, don’t accuse the bone-idle press down here of ignoring Scottish News, they ignore all English news and hope to sell copy on scandals.

      • monty61

        Touche. In SNP-la-la land the blame for everything lies south of the Border dontcha know?

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