Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Great Divide

I have a confession to make. Throughout my adult life I have voted for the Conservative Party on all but one occasion. That occasion was an episode in my teens in Kent when, in a rebellious streak, I voted for the local Liberal candidate. In retrospect, I suspect that was more because I had a soft spot for an old primary school friend, the Hon. Victoria Lubbock, (daughter of the former Liberal MP for Orpington, Eric Lubbock - now Lord Avebury) than the holding of any real political conviction. However, from thereon I politically turned from yellow to blue, and had seen no convincing reason to rekindle my chameleon activities until the past few years, when I became a sort of bland neutral in response to the growing conviction that nobody in Westminster really seems to know what they are doing with our country.

That was all before Andy Burnham’s speech to the influential King’s Fund last week. For those readers who are too politically fatigued to care anymore (and I don’t blame you), Andy Burnham MP is Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, and The King’s Fund is a renowned, apolitical, high quality ‘think tank’ for debating new ideas in healthcare delivery.

In his speech, delivered to a silent and intently listening audience, Mr Burnham outlined the contents of his Green Paper on how the Labour Party, if elected to Government in 2015, would rescue the remnants of our National Health Service from its current fragmented state on Death Row. What materialised was a breath of fresh air in political thinking in the way we need to tackle the growing crisis of care for an increasingly elderly population, and how to manage the shrinking financial pot with which to tackle that crisis. I say ‘political breath of fresh air’ as many of us outside of national politics but inside local health and social systems have long been convinced of the sensible way forward. That is, the abolition of the artificial divide between ‘health services’ and ‘social services’ in terms of funding, management and provision. The important word here is ‘integration’; an integrated system that can deal with a person’s entire health and social needs without recourse to cross-departmental or cross-organisational politics, policies and funding. Essentially, one organisation would take control of the lot, with specialist advisers (for example, doctors in respect to healthcare) to keep the system balanced. For once, ‘whole-person care’ will be the responsibility of one organisation. Just how sensible is that? 

As I listened to Andy Burnham from my beleaguered bunker as a GP in primary care, I began to sense another colour change materialising. For once, a political agenda was being proposed that I could warm to with heartfelt conviction. It was a policy that was actually saying ‘we understand and genuinely care for the plight of those with health and social needs in our society – and we want to provide a system that can comprehensively help them’. ‘Hallelujah’ was my response, as I psychologically crossed the floor of the House of Commons. Now, I wonder if my constituency Labour party needs an experienced doctor and health manager to stand as their candidate in 2015?

(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday 7th February 2013)

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