Cameron may not have all the answers

DAVID Cameron's visit to Heath Road last week shone a welcome spotlight on the problems facing Ipswich Hospital.But I'm not at all sure that his diagnosis of the situation - or his prescription for improving matters - would really be that effective.

DAVID Cameron's visit to Heath Road last week shone a welcome spotlight on the problems facing Ipswich Hospital.

But I'm not at all sure that his diagnosis of the situation - or his prescription for improving matters - would really be that effective.

Mr Cameron makes much of the fact that there have been nine major reforms of the NHS since Labour came to power. I would not dispute that.

But in all fairness to the government, I'm pretty sure that Frank Dobson didn't arrive at the Department of Health on May 3 1997 and think: “We're going to change the health service nine times between now and 2006.”

What happened was changes were introduced, they were found not to work as well as was hoped and so the government made further changes.

From what I can remember the NHS was not exactly immune from reform during the 18 years of the Conservative government from 1979.

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We had area health authorities, district health authorities, regional health authorities, fund-holder GPs, all kinds of different methods of funding mechanisms introduced.

What is Mr Cameron's latest prescription to solve the problems of the NHS? Remove it from the control of politicians and give power back to doctors and nurses.

If that isn't another reform what is it? And what would happen if it didn't work as well as he hoped. Would a Tory government plough on relentlessly . . . or would it try to reform the system again a year or two later?

One thing that did disturb me was his comment about taking the health service away from the hands of politicians.

It seemed as if Mr Cameron was trying to jump on “politicians can't be trusted” bandwagon - as if their decisions are not as valuable as those of experts when it comes to policy.

That strikes me as a very dangerous belief - and it is very disturbing to hear it from the mouth of the leader of one of the most important political parties in this country.

Like it or not politicians, at whatever level, are voter into positions of power and influence by the people of this country. They are our democratic representatives. They are accountable to the people in elections.

They have their positions to make decisions on behalf of the people - and by taking decisions away from them you are undermining democracy itself.

Former Ipswich MP Ken Weetch summed this up perfectly when he was taking about the decision of the government's National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) to deny new early-stage Alzheimer's Disease sufferers the drug Aricept.

That decision was taken by an unelected body made up of experts who looked only at the cost/benefit analysis and didn't appear to take into account the impact their decision would have on the quality of life of the sufferers.

There is no one to hold them to account. There is, apparently, no politician that can say to them: “Hold on a minute, chaps!”

If the whole health service was organised on this basis it might be more efficient - but there would be no one who would have to listen to what people wanted.

If things went wrong there would be no one accountable to the public. And that cannot be good for the NHS - or democracy as a whole.

NEWS that Ipswich does seem set to get a new sixth form college for students living in the south and west of the town is, on the face of it, look like a great step forward for the whole area.

Within a few years Ipswich will have a new university, a new further education college and a new sixth-form college offering fantastic learning opportunities to people of all ages and abilities.

My only concern about this news is, however, that there are some students who would prefer to stay within the school they are familiar with for their sixth form studies rather than move across town.

Those who have specific academic goals already tend to look at the options open to them at 16 before deciding where to continue their studies.

Others who are not so sure prefer to remain in an atmosphere within which they are familiar while they decide which course their lives should take.

If these people are not to be lost to full-time education at 16, the transition to a sixth-form needs to be as painless and easy as possible.

That means there needs to be easy transport to the centre from all areas of the town and the neighbouring towns and villages serving the centre.

There needs to be some level of continuity with staff as well - so students can see familiar teachers and not feel they are in a totally alien environment.

And finally there needs to be an expectation from day one that 16-year-olds will move there when they have completed their GCSEs. That way they will move with their friends and classmates, making the whole process less traumatic.

With these measures in place the sixth-form centre should be a great success. If it is just put up as bricks and mortar in a vacuum, it could get off to a very sticky start.