Letters: The Cabinet is incapable of the radical thinking needed to help the NHS

·9-min read
Paramedics help an elderly patient into a wheelchair outside the emergency department of the Royal London Hospital - David Cliff/Getty
Paramedics help an elderly patient into a wheelchair outside the emergency department of the Royal London Hospital - David Cliff/Getty

SIR – Nick Timothy’s assertion (Comment, September 13) that “we need to raise more taxes” to pay for healthcare comes straight from the Old Labour playbook.

Having worked as a consultant in the NHS, I don’t believe that any government has got to grips with public-sector waste and profligacy. Even Margaret Thatcher failed.

It was recently reported that there are more people employed by the health service who have no medical or nursing qualifications than there are doctors and nurses. As a patient, I have found some of the treatment to be exemplary; some less so.

The basic problem with the NHS is that patients are disenfranchised. Radical thinking is required to solve this problem – but nobody in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet is capable of it.

Ian Strachan
Blairgowrie, Perthshire

SIR – In 1993, when I was managing director of a care home company, the chairman and I were invited to the House of Commons to speak to a select committee on health.

Our experience in the care home sector had made us aware of the huge problem looming over the Government, caused by an ageing population and the consequent difficulty in finding finance to meet the growing demand for care. It was apparent that the Community Care Act, implemented in April of that year, was going to hinder rather than help.

We suggested that a small increase in National Insurance contributions might be taken and ring-fenced for social care. We were laughed out of the meeting. If the idea had at least been considered at the time, we would not be in the dreadful state we are now.

Anthea Burdess
Bradfield, Berkshire

SIR – Introducing his plans for health and social care on September 7, the Prime Minister said: “Our National Health Service is the pride of the whole United Kingdom.”

As a retired general practitioner who worked for 41 years for the NHS, I do not share his pride. When I was in practice, I frequently felt embarrassed to be part of the NHS: embarrassed that I could not always see patients as soon as I and they would have wished; embarrassed that I could not arrange scans and other complex diagnostic procedures promptly; embarrassed that most of my hospital referrals had to wait months, or sometimes years, to be dealt with; and embarrassed that many other European countries were outperforming Britain in important areas such as cardiovascular disease, cancer treatment and the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are many talented, dedicated and hard-working clinical staff in the NHS, but their efforts are frequently frustrated by the stifling dysfunctional bureaucracy that goes with a nationalised industry. Until we face up to that reality, we will never have a health service that really meets the needs of the British people.

Dr Tim Cantor
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Atlantic bravery

SIR – Once again the RAF has been flying vintage aircraft as part of the celebrations commemorating the 1940 Battle of Britain victory.

I have no wish to diminish the young pilots’ bravery, but more should be done to remember the Battle of the Atlantic. This ran from September 1939 to May 1945 and Churchill described it as the most important battle of the Second World War. Had the North Atlantic supply routes failed, Britain would have gone down within weeks.

During the six weeks of what the RAF calls the Battle of Britain, when it lost about 550 aircrew, just under 2,000 Royal Navy and Merchant Navy sailors were lost in the North Atlantic. They should also be remembered.

Lt Col I R Berchem (retd)
Barton Bendish, Norfolk

Tennis blackout

SIR – It is wonderful that Channel 4 allowed the nation to watch one of the most important tennis matches of recent years (Letters, September 13). Spare a thought, however, for the many fans in North Yorkshire who were unable to do so, then had to listen to friends telling them what an incredible match it was.

We have been without terrestrial TV transmissions for five weeks – with no end in sight – because the Bilsdale transmitter caught fire. The deal that Channel 4 made with Amazon blacked out transmission via the All 4 player (our only means of viewing) and there is no repeat or catch-up facility.

One hopes that Emma Raducanu wins more titles – but, please, not until “normal service” has been resumed.

Ken Hunter
Gilling West, North Yorkshire

Still Number One?

SIR – Driving around the empty capital recently, I noticed how sad Apsley House – Number One, London – was looking. Drab and dismal, with no hint of flowers: the first Duke of Wellington would not be impressed.

Patrick Hungerford
Newbury, Berkshire

Squeezing consumers

SIR – Manufactures are not only reducing the weight of their products (Letters, September 14), but also widening the holes in squeezable sauce and shampoo bottles, leading to inadvertent extra consumption.

Steve Vine
Nottingham

Vaccinating children

SIR – Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, attempts to justify the decision to vaccinate children aged between 12 and 15 by citing the benefits to their mental health, and the reduced disruption to schooling (report, September 14).

These “benefits” only exist thanks to the disastrous political decision to shut schools, and the Government’s use of fear tactics to scare the public into compliance with its Covid policy.

They have nothing to do with Covid directly: they are simply consequences of bad government.

Alton Ainley
Fenny Compton, Warwickshire

SIR – As an undergraduate at Edinburgh University Medical School, I was taught about the consent process. The main concept instilled into my thinking was the phrase primum non nocere: “first, do no harm”.

This is particularly important when vaccinating children where there is risk, albeit small, with no discernible benefit for the individual.

Dr Stephen Swindells
Ripon, North Yorkshire

Scotland’s future

SIR – Any future referendum on Scottish independence (report, September 14) should consider the wishes of the entire United Kingdom.

Otherwise Scotsmen like me, living in England, face the prospect of suddenly being rendered foreigners in what was formerly their own country.

Angus Falconer
Kilmington, Devon

Natural curiosity

SIR – I was saddened to read Jemima Lewis’s article (Comment, September 10) about how she did not have the option of pursuing her interest in natural history at school.

When I started to teach biology in secondary schools in 1964, rural science was available, botany was still a degree subject, and there was no National Curriculum. This allowed teachers to introduce as much natural history as we liked – and I did.

I spent many weeks each year taking groups out on fieldwork, both locally and further away. But then everything changed. I fought hard to prevent those changes as they were forced upon us.

Now, in retirement, it gives me pleasure to lead small groups of adults on wildflower and tree-identification walks. Who will be able to lead such groups 30 years hence if no one is learning about the natural world today?

Veronica Smith
Danbury, Essex

Keeping time

SIR – The 18k gold full hunter Hahn Landeron pocket watch presented to my grandfather on his retirement from the Seaforth Highlanders is far too heavy for anyone’s pocket (Letters, September 13).

It sits on its domed glass-covered stand, accurately ticking through the centuries since it was manufactured in the 1890s – a fine tribute to the watchmaker’s art and the fine old soldier who was its first owner.

James McNie
Rafford, Morayshire

SIR – Only this week my wife and our daughter made use of the wooden surfboard, complete with a knot, that was made for my mother-in-law, now 99, when she was 14.

She herself only stopped using it a small number of years ago.

Mark Wade
Reading, Berkshire

Celebrating the season of mists – and marrows

Heavyweight: a prize-winning marrow at the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show in 2017 - AFP/Getty
Heavyweight: a prize-winning marrow at the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show in 2017 - AFP/Getty

SIR – There are more than 100 allotments in our village,and at this time of the year they produce a glut of marrows. My wife picked one up for nothing in the local library.

I like to cut them into thick slices, which I peel, then push out the middle seeds. After roasting, I cover the marrow with chilli mince and add baby new potatoes.

Dave Alsop
Churchdown, Gloucestershire

One way to fail a dinner-party inspection

SIR – We gave a dinner party (Letters, September 14) for Inspector Clouseau some 40 years ago.

Not the fictional one, of course, but a real live Frenchman, who was so similar to the Peter Sellers version in words, deeds and appearance (trench coat and moustache) as to be indistinguishable.

“What is thees English mustard?” he scoffed as he picked up the pot and proceeded to plaster it on the meat as though it came from Dijon.

As it hit him, his eyes filled with tears, and he sputtered: “Mais, mais, mais, c’est seulement la moutarde extra-forte!”

Today’s bland version would hardly warrant a whimper.

Philip Styles
Cheddar, Somerset

SIR – With regard to dinner party crises, I remember hearing a story about when my aunt – at the time, the newly married wife of a naval officer – was hosting her first dinner party at Scapa Flow during the Second World War.

The main course was some steak, which, as a novice cook, she been told to “pass under the grill”. Needless to say it was underdone, and everyone agreed that more cooking was required. So the plates went back to the oven.

Unfortunately, when the food returned to the table, it transpired that the cutlery had gone in too – and the knife handles had melted.

Michael Graham-Cloete
Ifold, West Sussex

SIR – Just before a dinner party at our house I had an acute attack of mouth ulcers, making it impossible to eat or talk. I said I could not possibly sit through the event.

My wife refused to cancel – as recommended by William Sitwell (Features, September 9) – as she had spent a long time preparing the dishes, and so got her mother to stand in for me.

Two things stick in my mind: first, none of the guests seemed to notice I wasn’t present; and, secondly, the one put in charge of keeping the wine flowing in my absence did so most enthusiastically, resulting in inebriated and incapable diners, and a significant hole in my wine cellar.

Loser on loser, as the bridge term goes.

Robert Hurlow
Marnhull, Dorset

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