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Crisis, what crisis?

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.318.7178.270 (Published 23 January 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:270
  1. Geoff Watts, medical writer and broadcaster

    Another crisis in the NHS. What a relief. Or so it seemed to me last week, getting off the plane at Gatwick after several days' exposure to the US media's obsessive coverage of Michael Jordan's third and “final” retirement from basketball. In Britain if it's January it's winter health crisis time. The stories may be predictable and the headlines familiar, but at least they have more substance than endless analyses of one rather tall athlete's ball control and bank balance.

    So, thankful for this small mercy, I sat down with a pile of cuttings. Checking that they were dated 1999,and not ‘98 or ‘97, I read of the “Agony of doctors at breaking point” (Daily Mail), of how a “Hospital has to turn away ambulance in ‘flu crisis” (Birmingham Post), and of why “Critically ill patients face desperate hunt for bed” (Daily Mail again). After reading upwards of 50such headlines, I thought I'd seen one of everything. But no; the Mirror of 12January devoted its front page to a picture of baby Jake alongside a pithy description of his recent plight: “Doctors started Jake's birth, then stopped. They'd run out of beds.” And, just in case you'd failed to appreciate the awfulness of Jake's experience, the paper helpfully flagged its piece “The most shocking NHS crisis story yet.”

    Something has gone wrong with the script. This is the age of New Labour, and things weren't supposed to be like this. Wasn't the annual winter health crisis due to become history? Yes, of course it was. Back in November, Frank Dobson was doing the rounds to remind us of this very intention. As the Guardian leader writer of …

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