Tom Richmond: Down-to-Earth diagnosis for our plane-crash NHS

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THE HEART-STOPPING diagnosis that the NHS is so unsafe that “planes would fall out of the sky all the time” if it was an airline is made even more shocking because of the identity of the person who made this comparison.

It was not Labour’s health spokesman Andy Burnham – still Britain’s number one scaremongerer-in-chief – or another politician spooked by last week’s election results. It was the startling assertion made this week by Robert Francis QC, the chairman of the inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire scandal.

Now president of the Patients Association, and I can’t think of a better qualified person for this role, he is concerned that the NHS is still complacent on its care failings – despite the pragmatic approach of Jeremy Hunt, the current Health Secretary.

His words are worth repeating: “If we ran our airline industry on the same basis, planes would be falling out of the sky all the time.

“We’ve just got to change the attitude that because it’s provided by the state it’s all right for a number of people to be treated badly; well it’s not. Airlines would go out of business very quickly if they worked that way.”

Yet this claim is backed up by some interesting remedies. First, Francis says there needs to be “honesty” over the centralisation of specialist services – even if this means closing, for example, a local A&E unit. Will the politicians acknowledge this prior to an election?

Second, the lawyer says finance must not be used as an excuse for staff shortages. “You have to ask, if you can’t afford to provide that, why are you providing it at all?”

Third, he says the public should not be blamed for the A&E crisis and the inadequacies of out-of-hours care. “Why is it they go there? It’s because they have no alternative that they have trust and confidence in.”

The reason these remarks are so profound is because these views will be shared by NHS users across the country. As Francis concluded: “The answer is not to get people to fit in with the service – you need the service to fit in with the people.”

If there is poor service in the private sector, whether it be the utility companies, shops or supermarkets, people expect action – or heads to roll. Why not the NHS? This is why its sacred cow status needs to be tackled.

ALISON McGovern, the Labour MP for the ultra-marginal Wirral South seat, must be after a promotion. It is the only explanation for the 33-year-old career politician – she cut her teeth as a House of Commons researcher before taking up a public relations role with Network Rail – going on the radio to describe her party’s European and local election results as “massively successful”.

As such, Ed Miliband would be better advised to listen to Hull MP Alan Johnson, a former Cabinet minister, who was dismissive of those colleagues with little experience of the outside world and said: “It’s not about whether you know the price of a pint of milk or whether you can eat a sandwich properly, but it is about having some understanding of people’s lives.”

Or Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, who says Labour needs to make a better “emotional” case to the country if it is to stop haemorrhaging working class supporters to Ukip. Reeves should know. She was fourth in the 2006 Bromley and Chislehurst by-election, one place behind a certain Nigel Farage.

It will not happen, however, if Miliband continues to be so aloof. Asked to reveal the one word which defines his leadership, he replied “One nation” – a response that speaks volumes about Miliband’s unsuitability for high office.

WITH political apathy at an all-time high, 16 MPs – including Haltemprice and Howden’s David Davis and Rory Stewart, the new defence select committee chairman – are pressing for the Government to introduce a Recall Bill in next month’s Queen’s Speech which will make it easier for the electorate to hold under-performing MPs to account.

The key is the number of signatories that would be required to trigger a by-election, but Davis and his co-signatories make a valid point: “If the threshold is set at the right level, decent MPs would have nothing to fear.” I agree.

IT’S not just the Commons that needs to become more accountable. So, too, does the House of Lords. Even though Baroness Falkender, Harold Wilson’s private secretary, has not made a single contribution since being given a peerage 40 years ago, she has still claimed more than £20,000 over the past five years
in attendance and travel allowances.
That can’t be right. Either peers are committed Parliamentarians or they are not.

The irony is that the peer, as Marcia Williams, allegedly wrote the ‘Lavender List’ – Wilson’s resignation honours list which brought the whole system of political patronage into disrepute.

TALKING of patronage, the Tories are equally guilty of using the Upper House to reward political failures. After Martin Callanan, the party’s only MEP in the North East, lost his seat in the European elections, it was suggested that he be given a peerage. Then he was named
as a potential EU commissioner (which would be accompanied by a seat in the Lords).

Hang on. If Callanan is so good, why doesn’t he stand for election to the House of Commons in a marginal seat?