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Wednesday 4 January 2017

Blood brothers: the Mail and the NHS chief

It does seem odd that hospitals are allowing lawyers to set up shop in their foyers to advise patients on how they might sue the people treating them.
The Mail sees personal injury claims as a bane of modern life and it will be pleased to have secured the support of the NHS chief executive Simon Stevens in its mini-campaign on medical negligence suits.
Stevens obligingly says that lawyers' fees (should we call them ambulance-chasing if they are already in situ?) are "sucking" £440m a year from the health service that could finance 14,000 nurses. This affords the paper the opportunity to describe them as "blood suckers" in its splash headline.
He is rewarded with a leader praising him for his unequivocal comments.

All of which seems perfectly fair.

Mail May 23
Daily Mail, page 12, May 23, 2016

Wind back the clock to last May and we find that the Mail is less enamoured of Mr Stevens.
In the heady days of the referendum campaign, he told Andrew Marr that he was concerned about the impact on the NHS of a vote to leave the EU.
While there might be a financial bonus - Vote Leave said an "independence dividend" would produce enough money to build a new hospital every week  - Stevens feared that could be wiped out if an economic downturn followed Brexit. He outlined plans to improve cancer,  mental health and primary care services, but said these were dependent on the overall health of the economy. He was also worried about the fate of 130,000 staff who had come from the EU.
His words were interpreted by the Mail as a warning that Brexit could put the lives of 30,000 cancer patients at risk and presented under a headline saying "Stick to the day job!" The paper's report also pointedly described Stevens as "a former adviser to Tony Blair" and said that he had "presided over a £2.4bn spending deficit - the worst in the history of the NHS".
Those two points were repeated in a leader which accused him of making the "blood-curdling" 30,000 cancer deaths prediction.

So when it comes to the NHS's finances, it's ok for the chief executive to speak up about the £440m lawyers make from the £1.5bn paid out in compensation (where he agrees with the Mail).
But he should have kept his mouth shut about the possible impact on his budget of Brexit (where he disagreed with the Mail).

Or to put it another way: blood-sucking good, blood-curdling bad.

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