Friday, November 03, 2006

Lewisham doctor shakes his fist at Government demo but so what?
On Wednesday, Dr. John Wood, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon from Lewisham, made news by railing against Government plans to cut back the NHS. He was part of thousands who descended on Parliament to protest these measures. Dr. Wood said: "I have three sons and I have two nightmare scenarios. One, as an orthopaedic surgeon, is that they come to me and say, 'Daddy, I want a motorbike'. The other is that they come to me and say, 'Daddy, I want to be a doctor'." But is this the best he can do?

People who work in the NHS are having a tough time. While Government crows about new hospitals – the new Lewisham Hospital extension built with PFI money will open its doors soon – there are oddly timed cuts to boot. This borough is facing £7 million in cuts before the new wing opens. "It's one big jigsaw puzzle," Dr. Wood said, "and all the bits are falling apart." My problem is not with the sentiments raised – they’re spot on. I take issue with the fact that as one of this country’s best-educated professionals, doctors, like Dr. Wood, are punching way below their weight and leaving the mucky fighting of policy to less qualified people like me. The reason why we’re in the mess we are with the NHS is that people like Dr. Wood have allowed politicians to tinker at healthcare. There are exceptions: Dr. Richard Taylor the Independent MP for Wyre Forest, campaigned on the local issue of proposed service cuts at Kidderminster Hospital in 2001. He defended his seat successfully in 2005. But where are the other doctor MPs?

It seems to me that for decades the medical profession have been feted and fawned over while successive Governments have closed more and more community hospitals. It started at the birth of the NHS. Aneurin Bevan, the minister responsible for the NHS, won over sceptical doctors – 88% were opposed to the new service in January 1948 for fear of loss of independence (how prescient) – by allowing them to treat private clients in NHS hospitals. Did they sell out? Six months later, 90% of doctors signed up to the NHS (thanks to the BBC for this little bit of history). So the chickens have come home to roost. But that’s little comfort for the rest of us. Professionals like Dr. Wood were able to protest on Wednesday as colleagues covered for them back in the clinics. I’m sure similar support would come forth if they decided to campaign not just OUTSIDE Parliament but INSIDE it as well…

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