Odd alliances thrown together

YOU sometimes get the strangest bedfellows in politics.As I strolled through Ipswich Cornhill the other day there were two stalls urging people to stand up and fight cuts in the NHS.

YOU sometimes get the strangest bedfellows in politics.

As I strolled through Ipswich Cornhill the other day there were two stalls urging people to stand up and fight cuts in the NHS.

One was run by the Conservatives whose members were dashing around trying to get people to sign their petition - and in truth they didn't seem to need much persuasion.

The other stand was being run by the Socialist Party which had its own petition and was also attracting a fair bit of interest.

As someone who has covered politics - including political stories involving health policy - for many years, I must confess it seemed slightly strange to be now hearing Conservatives talking about fighting health cuts being brought in by a Labour government.

Surely it must be the other way around?

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And the Tories I saw on the Cornhill were more than slightly bemused to find themselves fighting the same issue as the Socialist Party!

Health does seem to be an issue that Labour has completed fouled up - from a presentation point of view as well as an actual delivery point of view.

When the chancellor was shoving billions of pounds in its direction in the run-up to the 2005 general election, there didn't seem to be any control on how the money was allocated and spent.

And while government ministers were rushing around saying: “We're spending millions on the NHS,” there was very little to show for it - it was going on boosting the woefully low wages of nurses and other hospital staff.

Now the government has realised it's led the genie out of the bottle, it's desperately trying to keep a lid on spending and hospital trusts like those in Ipswich are in a real crisis.

So now we have it under fire from both the left and the right - and no one from the Labour party seems able to bring themselves to mention the word health.

I'm far from convinced that the hospital would be any less at risk from cuts if the Conservatives were in power - and I know that while they may have support from some elements in the union movement, the opposition of the Socialist Party is hardly going to cause sleepless nights at the Department of Health.

I can't help feeling that essentially the bureaucrats have taken over control at the DoH and that the ministers are effectively trapped in a velvet prison.

STILL on the subject of health, I came away from my conversation with Ken Weetch last week feeling very, very angry.

Ipswich has had some good MPs who have always worked very hard for the town - both Tory and Labour.

But I don't think there will be many people who will disagree that Ken Weetch was the best of the best. Always a loyal Labour MP, he nevertheless was prepared to work with anyone from Ipswich if a project was in the best interests of the town. Everyone in Ipswich knew someone who had been helped by Ken Weetch. So when he attacks his government, it's going to be worth listening - Ken Weetch was never a rentaquote member of the awkward squad.

His attack on the decision to deny drugs to people suffering from Alzheimer's Disease really does show up an appalling situation that has been allowed to develop after the government handed over responsibility for deciding what can or cannot be prescribed to the unelected quango the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

If ever there was an example of Orwellian doublespeak, it is that name - but what an appalling situation the government has found itself in.

Aricept, the main drug at the centre of this row, costs £2.50 a pill. Most Alzheimer's patients need one pill a day. That works out at £912.50 a year.

The drug doesn't cure the disease but it does ease the symptoms significantly in many cases. Patients say it can “lift the fog” and it undoubtedly allows many patients to stay at home longer - meaning the state does not have to pick up the tab for residential care.

It is worth remembering that the cost of residential care for someone with Alzheimer's is often well over £500 a week - so the annual cost of the drug Aricept would cover less than a fortnight of residential care.

But of course it is not the money that should be the main consideration. The drug can mean the difference between having a meaningful relationship with a loved one and just watching them decline.

Mr Weetch told me that Aricept had helped his wife Audrey very much over the last five years. It has helped enable them to carry on living together as a couple - that is incredibly important to a civilised society.

In our advanced society, is it really acceptable to deny people the chance of a near-normal life for £2.50 a day?

The government should be ashamed that it has allowed this situation to arise - but in Suffolk the Conservative-controlled administration at Endeavour House cannot be proud of their actions in this respect either.

Their cuts mean the end of the superb Age Concern ACCESS service which has supported the families of people with dementia for two decades.

It is a nonsense to say this should be cut because the service is too good in Ipswich and north east Suffolk. It should be looking to build on that high-quality service across the county - not taking the service away from those families lucky enough to benefit from it in the first place.

It does seem that politicians from both main parties are now prepared to wash their hands of the plight of those suffering from dementia - after all it is not an easy disease to come to terms with. It is an inconvenient ailment for a society that is looking for total cures for every condition.