A HOSPITAL orthopaedic ward could not be further removed from the Houses of Parliament – and the political state of emergency over Brexit.
Yet, in many respects, it is far more indicative of the country’s ills than the daily dose of deadlock at Westminster which has become so unhealthy for the nation’s disposition.
This conclusion was crystallised after watching BBC political editor Laura Kuessenberg’s compelling documentary on the Brexit crisis and an astonishing interview with one Steve Baker.
Who is he? He is a former Brexit minister – he quit the Government last summer alongside David Davis and Boris Johnson – and is now a leading light in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group. Asked how far he was prepared to take his opposition to Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, the exchange went like this:
Baker: “Some things really matter, and democratic control of political power really matters.”
Kuennsberg: “Even if that might mean chaos?”
Baker: “Well, yeah.”
Talk about jaw-dropping arrogance. Even though the 17.4 million people were motivated by many reasons when they voted to leave the EU, I don’t recall ‘‘chaos’’ being on the Leave campaign’s manifesto (or the side of a bus).
And then my blood boiled as my mind turned back to the hospital ward where I spent much of the previous week waiting and observing while the NHS cared for an elderly relative. It was a microcosm of the political, economic and societal challenges arising from Brexit – challenges that MPs and campaigners on all sides of the political divide continue to ignore and overlook.
There were nurses, doctors and support staff from Britain – and around the world – doing their very best for their patients with no certainty at all when the growing number of unfilled vacancies will be filled. There were a significant number of young medical trainees. Yet, at a time when social mobility is so crucial, their commitment will only last for so long before they, too, become disillusioned.
And then the pressure on beds as a direct consequence of provision of social – and community – care simply not keeping pace with the needs of an ageing society.
Yet, even on this ward, there was no escape – or respite – from Brexit as the bloodletting continued at Westminster before the Prime Minister’s dramatic invitation to Jeremy Corbyn to forge a cross-party consensus of sorts.
Not only were patients genuinely worried – even fearful – about the inability of politicians to demonstrate the team work that is fundamental to the day-to-day running of their ward, but staff from overseas were genuinely appalled by the toxicity of the current debate.
One nurse, whose family are Gurkhas, spoke of her sadness at the sight of front page newspaper photographs of a teary-eyed premier being whisked back in her car to 10 Downing Street after yet another Parliamentary humiliation – such disrespect, she observed, was contrary to her culture and values.
As for the implied promise in the referendum that the NHS could receive an extra £350m a week as a consequence of Brexit – and the subsequent undertakings given by the Government on funding – there was a resigned shrug of the shoulders because of a weary realisation that any extra money will simply be a sticking plaster solution unless the staffing crisis is tackled and a plan of action agreed for social care.
This was reiterated yesterday by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee which identified 100,000 vacancies in the NHS. Acknowledging the current Brexit impasse, it warned that expecting retention rates to improve – or for more staff to join from abroad – was a “risky strategy” when the UK’s exit from the EU, and resulting immigration policy, was mired in uncertainty.
Yet, given the extent to which the future fortunes of the NHS, and other public services for that matter, are so closely aligned to the outcome of Brexit, this is drowned out by the coarseness of the debate. For, while it should be a source of encouragement that more people are taking an interest in politics, the quality of debate – and leadership – offers little comfort after a Remain-supporting Parliament found itself so at odds with the public’s desire to leave the EU.
From the Remain and Leave protesters who are now a permanent fixture outside Parliament and have come to symbolise the nation’s growing intolerance towards those with contrary views, their implacability is now replicated inside the House of Commons where the uncompromising stance adopted by the ultra-Brexiteers and most diehard Remainers has made conciliation impossible until now.
And even in the unlikely event of cross-party talks finding a miracle cure for Brexit, the nation’s wounds will not be healed until politicians face up to reality, undertake a health check and recognise how their collective intransigence is impacting upon real lives. They could begin by visiting a hospital ward – the real front line in the battle for Brexit if the chaos prescribed by the reprehensible Steve Baker and others is to be avoided.