Mourning isn’t enough

This comment piece appeared in the i newspaper in the wake of the Manchester attacks We should be angry about the Manchester attack How inevitable it is, that at times like this all the sordid clichés and false apprehensions come out. That if it weren’t for a “reckless foreign policy” the Salman Abedis of this world would wish only peace upon the West. That without an innately Islamophobic British population forcing disenfranchised young men into the arms of the radicalisers, the Salman Abedis would not exist. That love and unity alone will protect our children from people who see them as fair game for nail-bombs. ‘People like Salman Abedi don’t want to “divide us”. They want to kill us’ Or perhaps the most flawed interpretation of all, that people like Salman Abedi simply “want to divide us”. After a day when the emergency services have been through the unspeakable task of picking up children’s limbs from the floor of an arena, how can you think that the main motive at work is social division? This isn’t about an ‘atmosphere’ The view that it’s better to internalise these things and turn the guilt and responsibility onto ourselves is an inherent lineament of the Left. Take Novara Media founder Aaron Bastani, who just over 12 hours after the attack put someone to rights on Twitter by edifyingly pointing out that “the point of these attacks is literally to create atmosphere of mistrust between Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe”. ‘People like Salman Abedi […]

Yes Mr Hunt, this is unacceptable

One of the few positives to note about Jeremy Hunt’s perennial tenure at the Department of Health, is that he’s actually been there long enough to witness his own policies, and rhetoric, unravel. Take the decision last year to scrap bursaries for student nurses. At the time it was obvious to seemingly everyone outside of the Cabinet that encumbering future nursing students with huge private debts would harm applications and jeopardise recruitment, not free up 10,000 new places as was spun at the time. Now the figures are bearing those warnings out – applications for nursing and midwifery training places for September are down 23% year on year. Of course, it wasn’t entirely down to Hunt – if anyone could pluck David Cameron out of the cosy lifestyle in which he’s now ensconced, we could ask him too. Then there’s A&E. Countless warnings over the years have been largely dismissed with casuistry and creative number-play. It takes a leak to the BBC to reveal that January’s A&E figures are likely to be the worst ever, with emergency departments falling dramatically short of their targets throughout England. Take your pick from the horror stories: the 500,000 hours spent by paramedics waiting to get into A&E; 12-hour waits for beds; photos of chaotic corridors reminiscent of, well, the last time the Conservatives were in power. In short: with each year that passes with Jeremy Hunt in charge of the NHS, A&E departments in England get steadily worse. With each year that passes […]

Turkey is at a crossroads between democracy and dictatorship

In November the European Parliament voted to freeze Turkey’s bid to join the EU, with dire warnings over human rights violations, the systematic abuse of women and children, daily arrests of MPs and journalists, and a brutal campaign against the Kurdish minority. With a referendum in April likely to hand President Erdogan almost total executive power over Parliament, Turkey stands poised at the crossroads. The world needs to watch carefully to see which way it goes. “The police are at my door”, tweeted Selahattin Demirtas, in a last desperate message to his followers. Seconds later, officers forced their way in, arrested the MP, and dragged him off into the night. Demirtas hasn’t been heard from on Twitter since – that was three months ago. Somewhere during those same chaotic hours, his colleague and co-chair of the main Kurdish political party HDP, Figen Yuksekdag, was taken from her home, as were nine other MPs; Twitter, Facebook Whatsapp even YouTube all mysteriously shut down across Turkey. By morning it was confirmed 11 MPs from HDP- the third largest party in the Turkish parliament, with 6 million votes in the Turkish general election a year ago – had been arrested for alleged connections with proscribed Kurdish militant group the PKK. Since then, arrest warrants for four more HDP MPs have been issued and yet more Kurdish MPs – from other parties – have been targeted. Including Sebahat Tuncel, co-leader of the Democratic Unity Party (DBP), who was dragged away by police as she […]

Vaccine “free for all” market

This article  first appeared on the newstatesman.com in March 2016 Take a look at the World Health Assembly’s action plan on tackling the barriers to global vaccination, and time and time again, the almighty dollar comes up. The resolution, passed by all 193 countries present at the Assembly last summer, raises deep concerns about the “increased financial burden of new vaccines”; that “many low- and middle-income countries may not have the opportunity to access newer and improved vaccines, particularly because of the costs related to the procurement and introduction of these vaccines”; and that “globally immunization coverage has increased only marginally since the late 2000s”. Behind the resolution, on the floor of the Assembly, apparently the language wasn’t so polite. Delegates from almost 60 countries spoke out vituperatively against the high prices of vaccines as being the main culprits for the sickening lingering of killer diseases, and urged the global community to act. Take pneumonia. It is the biggest cause of childhood death under the age of five globally, claiming the lives of almost one million children each year – one every 35 seconds – yet in 2016 70 per cent of all the world’s children remain unprotected. The reasons why are complex and many, but humanitarian agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says that it can name one for sure: the cost of vaccinations is prohibitively high. The life-saving pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) is big business. And the entire market, worth $30bn to date, is sewn up by just two companies: […]

Whistleblowing doctors

How the government is leaving whistleblowing doctors to twist in the wind By Benedict Cooper To the untrained mind the sheer incomprehensibility of legal talk can make courtroom proceedings seem like a thick layer of cloud: featureless and unremarkable. But every now and then, a thunderbolt darts down and catches you by surprise. Sitting in Courtroom One of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) two weeks ago, on the second floor of Fleetbank House, Salisbury Square – in the heart of the legal establishment – I had one of those moments. I was there to report on the latest stage in the legal odyssey of whistleblowing junior doctor Dr Chris Day, and frankly a lot of it was going over my head. That is until the barrister representing Health Education England (HEE) made a startling admission. It’s pretty remarkable that I was even there. Day is a rare species of doctor – perhaps an endangered species, if the judgement doesn’t go his way – who has held his nerve through two years of pressure since he ‘blew the whistle’ one night. Most never get half as far as he has, and it’s not hard to see why. The fulcrum of the case is a gap – or “lacuna”, to get into the legalese – in the laws protecting junior doctors when they blow the whistle. A gap which exists because of an ambiguity as to who is ultimately responsible for their career, and which Day’s case has revealed. The status quo […]

The right wing does the NHS

I realise that Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society and polemic Spectator columnist, may have ideological even political reasons to bemoan the “perils of a socialised [healthcare] system”. That’s hardly going to come as a shock. What is surprising is that such an elevated journalist as he is willing to let so many innacuracies stand in this careless denigration of the health service. But it’s a useful exercise – it proves that certain stripes within the right have set out to manipulate the truth about the NHS for ideological means. And why they’re wrong. (Incidentally my own writing on medical politics appears mainily on the New Statesman). Murray believes that “George Osborne refuses to seek savings in [the NHS] budget and promised an unbudgeted further £9 billion”. Perhaps he is not aware of the fact that the Simon Stevens’ plan to which he (presumably) refers, and to which the government is committed, also calls for £22bn worth of cuts as a quid-pro-quo? Much of the NHS has already been cut, drastically in fact. Not least Public Health -a fact, surely, he should be happy about. After all, most of his piece is taken up by a loathing for the role of the state in tying to educate the public about the perils of obesity, smoking and other killers, which he considers paternalistic sermonising. Murray says that the NHS is the “only untouchable force in the state”. Perhaps he is not aware of the implications of the Health and Social […]

The quiet exodus of GPs

This article appeared in the New Statesman in July 2015 George Osborne quietly slipped into his budget some news that the medical staff perhaps dreaded, perhaps didn’t even imagine was possible: the public sector pay freeze will continue. For another four years. I’ll just let that sink in. For months, doctors and nurses have been begging the public and the government to take notice: pressure on the wards is building to dangerous levels. Medical staff are overworked, under-appreciated and underpaid, and now there’s this insult to injury – a further slap in the face from a Chancellor unwilling to reward their graft with a share of the recovery, for which they have already sacrificed so much. It’s so far from justice, such a total misdirection of priorities, it’s taken this long to process. The Conservatives are on such a high at the moment that judgement seems to be on hold. Back in April at the health election debate, Jeremy Hunt barely managed to defend the Health and Social Care Act, on which the Conservative government’s entire health record will be judged. But last week he unveiled a policy that could only have made it into the X-rated version of the Health and Social Care Act. And his explanation for why printing the cost of a prescription, with the words ‘Funded by the taxpayer’ on the box would help patients and not just leave them guilt-ridden as well as sick, was so unconvincingly delivered on Question Time that I doubt it would […]

Tory donor runs agency fund

‘Chief executive of firm accused of ‘ripping off’ NHS on staffing is a Tory donor’ The chief executive of a private equity firm that owns one of the staffing agencies accused by the government of “ripping off” the NHS is a major donor to the Conservative Party, The Independent can reveal. Ramez Sousou, founder and co-chief executive of transatlantic private equity firm TowerBrook Capital Partners, which owns Independent Clinical Services (ICS), has donated just under half a million pounds to the party since 2010, including more than £75,000 since his company bought ICS last year. Mr Sousou founded TowerBrook in 2005 and retains a stake in the company. His wife, Tiziana Cantoni, who is not connected to TowerBrook, has also donated personal funds to the party. On Tuesday the Government announced a drive to crack down on agencies providing nurses to NHS trusts, which Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said are ripping off hospitals with “extortionate” fees. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hunt said: “We will wrestle the initiative away from expensive staffing agencies that have been ripping off our hospitals with their exorbitant rates, and insist nationally negotiated frameworks are used instead, which make use of the NHS’s collective bargaining power.” The move came after it emerged that a number of companies have experienced a surge in their revenue from supply staff to the NHS over the past four years. Of these, ICS was identified as a major beneficiary, enjoying a 60 per cent increase in revenue between 2011 […]

NHS Reinstatement Bill

A new Bill plots the way back for the NHS – but it’s not Labour who are behind it First published in the New Statesman on Wednesday March 11th Later today, in the dusk of this parliament, a new Bill will get its first and perhaps only reading in the Commons. It’s unlikely to set pulses racing in any of the main party machines, but in certain circles the NHS Bill [3] represents the last ditch to save a dying public service. It is the result of three years of patient work led by two leading public health experts, Professor Allyson Pollock and Peter Roderick of the Centre for Primary Care and Public Health at Queen Mary, University of London. In the bill, they say, lies a trail of breadcrumbs to take us back to a different era. A time before the Health and Social Care Act; before the NHS was such fertile ground for profiteers. A time when money allocated for patient care wasn’t routinely squandered on futile bidding wars, failed private experiments, a contrived internal market and debilitating PFI repayments. “We’ve been working on this ever since the Health and Social Care Act came in,” says Allyson Pollock, speaking to me earlier this week. “We knew this time would come. What we’ve got in the Health and Social Care Act is a destructive reorganisation which has started the breakup of the NHS. “If we don’t bring in legislation then privatisation and the breakup of the service will continue; […]

Medical politics in 2014

2014 was a busy year for me…. Right at the end of 2013 I started covering medical politics, for various publications including the New Statesman and Open Demoncracy. Over the next 12 months I wrote extensively on the Coalition’s reforms of the NHS as they took place, covering everything from the progress of legislation through parliament, the effects of reforms on the front-line, the growing activist movement against these changes, and the gradual morphing, as I see it, from the public system into a private one. The articles I wrote in this 12 month period were shared over 10,000 times on Facebook and Twitter. But the only reason my writing has had any success is that it’s so closely connected to the movement on the ground. As a freelance journalist all of this work has been produced with my own time, energy and organisation. I have spent the last year marching with protestors, attending committees of parliament, building and maintaining relationships with doctors, nurses, politicians, academics, union members and activists. Below is a summary of these article. The work goes on…   THE NHS is in a critical condition. Sixty-six years after it was introduced as a socialised system to, in the words of the leaflet that was sent out to every household in Britain back in the summer of 1948, “ease your money worries in time of illness”, the whole concept and ideology of its founding is being dismantled. Over the past 25 years the NHS has been subtly […]

Privatisation is unravelling

…before our eyes. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/01/nhs-privatisation-experiment-unravelling-our-eyes As Circle Holdings, the first private firm to manage an NHS hospital, looks to leaving its contract, we have a depressing example of how privatisation can go badly wrong. Hinchingbrooke Hospital is to lose the private firm that runs it. Photo: YouTube screengrab What a difference (less than) a year makes. In a press release back in February last year [3], private healthcare company Circle Holdings spun that it had, “transformed services at Hinchingbrooke”. The hospital, it boasted, “is now secure for the future”. Which would make the news today that it was walking away two years into a 10-year contract to run Hinchingbrooke – the UK’s only privately-run NHS hospital – a shock, were it not for the sheer, abject predictability of it. The fact that Circle is dumping the contract on financial grounds, citing a lack of funding and pressure on the casualty department, is certainly no surprise to many, not least the National Health Action Party founding member and Save Lewisham Hospital veteran Dr Louise Irvine. She says: “This is exactly what we warned and predicted would happen and illustrates the folly of private sector involvement in our NHS. When the going gets tough, the private sector gets going – and dumps NHS patients. The privatisation experiment has lamentably failed”. It isn’t unexpected, not least because in September last year, when Health Service Journal obtained a damning report by the Care Quality Commission [4] (CQC) in which a litany of shocking failings were revealed, the writing was […]

The root of the A&E crisis

lies far beyond the wards… http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/01/real-root-ae-crisis-lies-far-beyond-wards How restful it must be to be Jeremy Hunt. Lesser health secretaries would regard the NHS’ worst ever A&E performance [3] happening on their watch as a damning indictment. More insecure an operator might take the calling of an urgent summit [4] to discuss the unfolding crisis as a sobering reflection on their own ability. Perish the thought. Outcry from Labour over the alarming figures is merely “an example of the politicisation of the NHS that people find so distressing,” he said, during an urgent question session called today by Labour in the hope of prising some answers from him. Since the figures were published yesterday the Tories have done everything but accept them for the depressing landmark they are. They have continuously blamed unprecedented demand from an ageing population for the surge, combined with the traditional winter spike in admissions. Before we go any further, it’s worth pointing out that A&E attendance in England was actually higher over the summer than the “unprecedented demand” in December [5] that has led to this crisis. But let’s leave that to one side. Even accepting that overall admissions are increasing, it’s facile of Hunt to blame increasing demand on an ageing population alone. Accident and emergency is not an island, entire of itself. Cut the wider social and welfare system, squeeze GPs, and enforce a hugely wasteful internal market [6] – as this government has done compulsively – and A&E figures will go up, hospitals will […]

Labour’s murky PFI past

The following article appeared on the New Statesman’s online blog, The Staggers in July 2014 To save the NHS, Labour must face the ugly truth of PFI debts Labour is right to focus on rescuing the NHS from the harm done by this government, but must face the truth that it was the party that introduced private finance into the health service in the first place. Ed Miliband has said that this is going to be an “NHS summer”. He has sensed, rightly, that there’s something in the air, a tension over the precarious health service. Strain on services is rising, the number of hospitals in the red is surging up, patient concern is growing and doctors are quitting in disgust at the ominous developments from the top. As much as the coalition would love to suppress them, the figures point towards a potential full-blown crisis before the parliamentary term is through. In August, campaigners will march for 300 miles, through 23 towns from Jarrow to London to press home these fears, and there are activists up and down the country straining just to get the same message across to the public: the NHS is in danger.   http://www.newstatesman.com/staggers/2014/07/save-nhs-labour-must-face-ugly-truth-pfi

Revolutiony Wutiony

Once upon a time, I was invited to watch a man masturbate. It was a show in an artist’s bedroom, where, to the gathered audience, the sound of a drum and the background of a poetry recital, he was going to indulge in a long drawn-out wank, and bring himself to climax. I declined. But I’ve often thought perhaps I should have gone. I’ve tried to picture the scene, and me standing there, and wondered how I would have felt. Whether it might have drawn some conservative, reactionary indignation from me. Or whether it might, in fact, have been fascinating and resonate with meaning. I’ll never know now. But I imagine it feeling a bit like watching Russell Brand at work. Often when I read a Russell Brand comment piece, or see his face on TV, those big doe-eyes backlit with a burning ego, or, these days, when I see him on a stage addressing his legions, I get the same sensations I imagine I would have felt standing in that artist’s bedroom. Russell took his t shirt off for the revolution today. He bore his chest (not, of course, for the frisson of sexual excitement that it gave him) to the 50,000 strong-crowd and proclaimed the revolution alive and well. He believes his “peaceful, effortless and joyful” revolution is going to change the world. He urges people not to vote; to end the disconnect between politicians and the public. He believes in Socialist egalitarianism and a “massive re-distribution of […]

Open Democracy: Our NHS

I have written various stories for Our NHS, part of Open Democracy, a progressive news site dedicated to preserving democracy and fighting for social justice. These can be viewed here: Labour’s Andy Burnham moves to strike out “Hospital Closure Clause” Benedict Cooper 7 March 2014 Labour confirmed yesterday that it would be staging a last ditch attempt in parliament on Tuesday to strike out the deeply unpopular “Hospital Closure Clause”. Government brushes aside NHS Free Trade Treaty Concerns Benedict Cooper 27 February 2014 MPs raise concerns about the impact the forthcoming trade treaty, TTIP, will have on the NHS – but Minster Without Portfolio Ken Clarke says it will make no difference. Hunt seeks to shed his duty to keep our medical data safe Benedict Cooper 7 February 2014 Ministers dodge Labour grilling on the care.data controversy.

The wet dream is over

The grey skies over Britain were a fitting tribute to Maggie as she sucked a final helping of Britain’s resources down with her into the darkness. It was a gratuitous day that wrapped up a fortnight of a very modern, cynical type of grief. In reality her death changed nothing: the Lady was long gone, but it said so much more. About the world she has shuffled off, the grey she leaves behind. Those who still revere Thatcher choose only to look at what came before her, the rest of us see what has followed.

Some shots of Mick & Miread Philpott leaving court pre-sentencing