Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Should We Get Into Step?

Kevin Barron (right) with Chair Rob Quick, addresses Sunday's meeting. Below 13 of the 21 present. (Photos by Dave Hill)

Kevin Barron addressed our Discussion Meeting on Sunday. He has been the MP for Rother Valley since 1983 and is Chair of the Select Committee on Health in the current parliament.

The topic he introduced for discussion was his Select Committee's recent wide ranging enquiry into the important "NHS Next Steps Review" which had been undertaken for the Government by Lord Darzi who is a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and is also a leading surgeon at Imperial College.

A major aim of Darzi's Report was to place quality services at the heart of the NHS, with patients being treated with compassion, dignity and respect. In pursuing these ends the Select Committee had welcomed the supervisory role designated for the Strategic Health Authorities, but it doubted whether Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) were currently capable of performing the tasks they were being set. For PCTs are seen as having poor commissioning and planning skills and, also, exercising variable qualities of management.

The Daszi Report had also recommended the adoption of an NHS Constitution. For the first time setting up rights and responsibilities for patients and staff in a single document.

The Select Committee welcomed the rights that would be established to enable patients to obtain drugs prescribed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), but they expressed fears about proposals that might lead to the operation of a "Lawyers' Charter.

The new NHS Constitution would also provide rights for patients to gain information about the quality of alternative NHS provisions. In supporting these proposals, Kevin pointed out that a local elderly widow had opted to enter a hospital in the south of England because she had family in the area she selected.

21 people attended the Dronfield meeting and Kevin's presentation led to an intense and lively debate. There was a major discussion over whether the "choice" agenda merely led to isolated individualism and the expansion of market principles into the NHS, instead of looking to the development of democratisation which would enable people to press for shared interests.

A wide range of other topics were pursued such as worries about MRSA, the post-code lottery, healthy food (the Select Committee had interviewed Jamie Oliver), patient's subjective judgements about their treatment and the widespread absence of NHS dental services. On the latter Kevin pointed out that the Health Select Committee had pursued the matter some 18 months ago, but found the Government to be in denial about the issue.

Personal : I was Kevin's politics tutor in 1974-5 when he attended the third year of a Day Release Course run for Yorkshire Miners by the Sheffield University Extramural Department. At the time he was a pit electrician. He went on to full-time study at Ruskin College in Oxford and gained a Diploma in Labour History. Kevin and I next met up in the Commons where I was a fellow MP from 1987 to 2005. Amongst the common activities we shared was meeting with the Conservative Minister of Higher Education, Tim Eggar in a failed attempt to save the traditional Diploma courses at Ruskin College. I had myself studied on such a course 14 years before Kevin had.

Note : The Discussion Group has now been running for three years. The above is our third meeting on the NHS. In September 2006, Dave Hincliffe (Wakefield MP 1987-2005 and the previous Chair of the Commons' Select Committee on Health) addressed us. Whilst for the 60th Anniversary of the NHS, Dr Jack Czaudema of the Darnall Community Health Centre was the speaker.