This turbulent surgeon
Sir: I have taken Meirion Thomas to task before in your letters pages, saying that since one third of NHS professional staff are immigrants, it would seem churlish to deny health visitors access to the very doctors we have poached from them.
Meirion Thomas is not a whistle-blower (‘Bitter medicine’, 3 January) — he has not told us anything that our own prejudices haven’t already informed us of. And quite rightly he is being encouraged by his colleagues to zip it. Is there any business, let alone political party, that would tolerate such pointless, if not divisive, mudslinging from within?
Dr Tom Roberts
Sir: Freddy Gray’s piece on Meirion Thomas last week is a worrying reminder that medicine, despite its dependence on scientific truth, still hides truths of other sorts when they prove inconvenient or embarrassing.
Forty years ago a pig-farmer friend visited his wife and newborn baby in a local hospital, where there had been an outbreak of a ‘mystery illness’. To one side my friend noticed an empty drug bottle and remarked within the hearing of medical staff that the drug concerned was that prescribed by his vet for E. coli in pigs. Within moments he was bundled into a nearby linen store and told that he had to assure staff that he would not discuss the matter anywhere before they would release him. Within days my friends’ baby had died and the hospital then announced an outbreak of E. coli .
The treatment of Meirion Thomas must make us wonder whether, if the medical profession is reduced to dismissing competent practitioners rather than facing inconvenient truths, it will further limit the extent to which the benefits of modern medicine can be shared.
Sir: If there is consensus among the political parties not to privatise the NHS as James Forsyth suggests (Politics, 3 January) let us at least be glad they are currently reflecting the will of the British people. As for whether it is unhealthy, that depends on whether their legitimate concerns over privatisation can be addressed.
The examples of American healthcare, our energy companies, railways and misbegotten PFI ‘initiatives’ show us that whatever efficiency savings might or might not accrue, costs always rise steeply and the poorer get priced out. Everyone gets smart new seats, but a margin for profit is taken out of the pot that could have gone on services. Vested interests and commercial gain easily become key drivers behind whatever deals are set up, to the detriment of front-line service quality. And the ostensible benefit of ‘customer choice’ evaporates when you want a drug the insurance company doesn’t want to pay the pharmaceutical supplier for. So far there has been an unhealthy silence over these problems, which politicians must break if they are to reform our ‘national religion’.
Dr Warren Reed
Sir: Bruce Anderson (Diary, 3 January) is right to recall that England football fans waved the Union Flag when their team won the World Cup in 1966. What he fails to recall is how much their actions were resented in Scotland and, I imagine, in the other non-English nations of the United Kingdom. This was not because of hostility towards the English team or its win (memories of the second world war were still sufficiently fresh in 1966 for beating the Germans to excuse almost anything), but because of the presumption of conflating the rest of us, unasked, with England. The Cross of St George may subsequently have taken on unpleasant connotations within English society, but the other partners in the Union can only view its belated adoption as the correct symbol of England with gratitude.
St George in Tuscany
Sir: Bruce Anderson mentions the presence of the Cross of St George in Jan van Eyck’s ‘Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele’ in Bruges (Diary, 3 January). A perhaps even greater painting with the same ingredient is Piero della Francesco’s ‘Resurrection’ fresco at Sansepolcro in Tuscany. It’s always seemed intriguing that Christ here triumphs over death proudly carrying the flag of the Church of England — and in such a Catholic country too.
Chichester, West Sussex
Burchill’s blanket dismissal
Sir: Julie Burchill (‘Fashion statement’, 3 January) says middle-aged women who ‘make a fuss’ over their appearance have nothing of substance to recommend them. Very often they do, from Margaret Thatcher to Vivienne Westwood to your next-door neighbour (in varying degrees), but that approach means you may never know. I agree slogans on clothing are often trite, dull, pretentious and by definition repetitive, but to shoot the messenger for their appearance before you hear what they have to say is glib and often cruel — a bit like slogans in fact.
Sir: The recent correspondence on the subject of the fatal cricket accident which in 1751 prevented Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, from succeeding his father George II as king in 1760, has failed to mention that this was the first known instance in cricket history of play stopping reign.