“Mr Rationing” is unafraid to speak out

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 10 January 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:91
  1. Jo Waters

    Stephen Thornton is the new chief executive of the NHS Confederation. An outspoken advocate for explicit priority setting in the NHS, he tells Jo Waters that there is a gap between rhetoric and reality which the confederation must help the government to close

    Stephen Thornton is a man whose professional career was changed forever by the rationing row over “child B”. He may well have an impressive 18 year track record in NHS management, but as far as the public is concerned he will always be “Mr Rationing”–the man who would not sign the cheque to pay for controversial cancer treatment for Jamie Bowen.

    As chief executive of Cambridge and Huntingdon Health Authority, the media demonised him as the bureaucrat denying hope to the family of a dying child. “I received hate mail and death threats. It was a very difficult time for my family … my wife had difficult interchanges with people, and I worried about how my children would cope at school,” said Mr Thornton.

    “We didn't say ‘no’ because we were short of money but because the overwhelming clinical advice we got was that it would be ineffective and inappropriate. It's ironic that the one case that has been …

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