Health secretary is ordered to disclose government’s assessment of risk posed by NHS changesBMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7407 (Published 15 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7407
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On 17th November 2011 , low down on its website, appeared a report from Guardian’s health correspondent Denis Campbell, under the following headline:
Labour pledges to repeal NHS bill: all provisions that turn health and social care services into a market-based system will be removed, says Andy Burnham.
On the previous day, Burnham had spoken as shadow Secretary for Health to the annual conference of the Royal College of Midwives in Brighton. His speech included the following explicit pledge: “...let me make it clear – if the [Lansley] bill in parliament goes through, we will repeal it. We will return the NHS to a national system based on the principle of collaboration on which it was founded in 1948.”
The report went on to include comments from an unnamed spokesperson for Conservative Health Secretary Lansley: “Andy Burnham has shown his true colours. He wants to turn the clock back to 1948, destroying the progress that was made under Tony Blair and is committing the NHS to a costly reorganisation that no one will want. He’s rolling back the progress of the New Labour years by taking us back to a top-down, command and control NHS.”
Despite appearance on its website, this report was not printed in the Guardian either on 17th November or on the following day, nor was this news carried in any BBC news radio or TV broadcasts either on those days or since. Apart from the Guardian website, Burnham’s speech seems to have been reported only by Topnews USA, and NewsPointAfrica. Replying to my own e-mail enquiry on the 17th, Guardian readers’ editor Anne Clarke wrote: “It looks like this article was destined for the paper at some point, however didn’t make it into print unfortunately.”
Obviously this report was important, and of great interest to Guardian readers. It evoked 104 comments from readers in its first 24 hours, overwhelmingly in enthusiastic support, after which further responses were refused. Both readers and censors may remember the pledge contained in the Labour Party manifesto for the landslide election of 1997: “Our fundamental purpose is simple but hugely important: to restore the NHS as a public service working cooperatively for patients not a commercial business driven by competition.” For professional deceivers of the public, such unambiguous statements are dangerous.
Who organised suppression of this news, how did they do it, and why? Whoever they are, they are bound to fail. Typically in these times, they combine power with stupidity. As for Andy Burnham, it seems just possible that he still has some courage and imagination, and understands that his friends could far outnumber his enemies if he stands his ground.
1 www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/nov/17/labour-repeal-nhs-bill/print, accessed Nov 17 2011.
Competing interests: No competing interests