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The Friday Surgery

Don't listen to Bruce Keogh anymore - he's had his 'lamb moment'

I had a key moment on my NHA general election campaign last year. We were struggling to get press coverage at a time when my conservative counterpart, Tim Loughton, had a regular column in the local paper. My friend Dave noted that one of the times I had got in to the paper was when I had convinced the owner of a one-eyed dog to wear a 'Vote NHS, vote Carl Walker' dog jacket (the dog wore it, not the owner). A subsequent story about how George lost one eye because his previous owner couldn't afford dog insurance was my route in to an opportunistic canine/NHS analogy. I was told by the local journalist that 'they can't get enough of animal stories'. 

Dave and I were at a pub having a pint during a Sunday cycle and he made a suggestion. Why don't we fake an animal story? I could pretend to rescue an animal, say, for instance, a lamb, he could take a photo as a 'member of the public' and before you know it we'd have an 'Election candidate saves baby lamb from drowning' headline. Even Grant Schapps would have approved, which, I suppose, was a big part of the problem. I countered, "what about the headline 'Election candidate caught pretending to save a lamb from drowning'?" Dave assured me that the general public were not sophisticated in their ability to spot the difference between real and pretend lamb rescues. 

On the cycle back, he pulled us over at a field of sheep and before I knew it, Dave was ushering a confused lamb over. 

'Baaaaaa', Dave said, apologetically. The lamb seemed interested. After a period of confusion as it checked out why this two legged sheep was so ugly, it started to move forward, "Okay, get ready, Carl. Let's go over the fence, they're coming. Let's get the little black one, he's a bit fat - we can catch him". 

So I had a choice there and then. I had what I've come to term my 'lamb moment'. The 'lamb moment' is the point at which someone in public office, or who seeks public office, breaks their own accepted moral code of conduct for their career gain. Simple as that. I could chase the fat lamb, pick it up, almost certainly against its will, and pretend to the world that I had saved it from a nearby stream. Or, I could keep organising public meetings, leafleting door to door and writing letters to the paper about NHS privatisation. 

"You know what Dave, I think I might leave it", Dave was on his hands and knees by this point, in full sheep character. On the cycle back Dave suggested that he just photograph me pretending to hold the lamb and he could photoshop one in on his computer. However, the 'trick decent people with a fake lamb rescue' moment had gone. 

I was reminded of Dave when I read an NHA press release last week. Most of us who follow the government's caustic fumbling on the NHS know very well the stories of Jeremy Hunt and Simon Stevens, the public school neoliberal and the ex-UnitedHealth supremo pulling the strings at the top. But I've always been rather interested in the people in middle, the ones who aren't necessarily driven by ideological fervour and/or financial self-interest but whose job it is to translate, finesse or resist the chaotic delusions oozing down from on high.

It was with this in mind that I saw last week's NHA press release on medical director for NHS England, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh's, plan for A&E rationing across the UK. Prof Keogh's Urgent and Emergency Care Review from 2013 detailed how many hospitals will be reconfigured into different levels of urgent care, with only 40-70 Major Emergency Centres (the equivalent of A&E) and with 24/7 Urgent Care being provided in the remaining hospitals. This reduction from 144 A&Es in England to only 40-70 has been incorporated into Steven's five year forward view and the mass hospital closure plans (also known as the Sustainability and Transformation Plans). 

This comes on the back of more than a thousand doctors recently demanding the resignation of the NHS Medical Director after he allowed Jeremy Hunt to have final sign-off, and most certainly sex-up, his letter to the doctors' union warning of the (unfounded) safety effects of a doctors' strike. The letter went through a number of revisions to ensure concerns about the possible impact of a major incident – such as a Paris-style attack – during the strike were made as 'hard-edged' as possible. The photo caption which will, one assumes, become the exemplar of Prof Keogh's tenure, was, 'Sir Bruce Keogh: the respected doctor exploited for political gains'.

Professor Keogh provided the most supine acquiescence to the systematic vilification of his fellow doctors in their hour of need and, let's not beat around the bush with terminology here folks, he has infused credibility into the mass closure of A&Es across the country. I can't say exactly when Bruce Keogh had his 'lamb moment' or what it looked like. I rather suspect, in fact, that it didn't even involve an actual lamb.

I do know one thing though; Professor Sir Bruce Keogh is no longer representing the interests of the British people. 

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