8 min read

Cowper’s Cut 283: Towards ‘Health Week’, with the intriguing, baffled-looking Banker

Cowper’s Cut 283: Towards ‘Health Week’, with the intriguing, baffled-looking Banker

As dull people go, the perenially baffled-looking Secretary Of State For Worrying About The Reshuffle Steve 'The Banker' Barclay is showing himself to be an oddly intriguing character.

No 10 gets serious in silly season to test out key strategies
It has long been the perceived wisdom in Westminster that the public wants politicians to go away in August: not just on holiday, but off the airwaves as well.T

The Times, briefed on the Conservative And Unionist Party's summer 'fightback', reveals that "next week it is health week, with plans for Steve Barclay, the health secretary, to write to Labour and SNP ministers in Wales and Scotland pointing out that their waiting times are much worse than in England. Provocatively, he will offer to help bring them down".

This is an intriguing strategy, just a few days after the latest NHS England data shows that the NHS in England's RTT backlog hit its (latest) highest level ever. 7.6 million: another 100,000 a month. As ever, Rob Findlay provides first-rate analysis for Health Service Journal.

Waiting list grows again as NHS plays catch-up on missed targets
Clinical risk on the waiting list continues to grow, writes Rob Findlay

Our national media is inept and weak at holding the Government to account, but they aren't quite so dim as to overlook this fact.

So the Banker's political strategy here is, well, intriguing.

NHS to see patients faster with hospital ‘matchmaking’ to skip worst waits
THOUSANDS of Brits will get faster NHS treatment thanks to a new hospital “matchmaking” service. Medics can now use an online search engine to match patients to the local clinics with the shortest …

Equally intriguing were the media announcements of an NHS 'matchmaking' strategy, of our old friend patient choice. This is going to be another tremendous success, clearly: it's only been standing NHS policy since, oh, 2012.

And NHS performance in England has been on such a rising trajectory since then. What could conceivably go wrong?

The Government's health policy and politics reinvented as self-satire it is, then.

Inconvenient target results? Easy! Abolish them

NHS to rethink its targets on cancer wait times as patient backlog grows
Targets for cancer waiting times are to be dropped this week, with the NHS claiming they slow down treatment. The commitments being ditched include the two-week

Shaun Lintern and Harry Yorke of The Sunday Times revealed that The Banker and co plan to abolish a range of NHS cancer waiting time targets that have been consistently missed for the best part of a decade.

Mmmmmmm. If not mmmmmmmmm.

Members of the Memory-Possessing Community, such as 'Cut' subscribers, will remember the spectacular performance success that ensued from the Lansley reforms changing the attainment target for 4-hour A&E waits downwards from 98% to 95% ... oh.

September strikes

But hey, even though I've just turned 52 (and yeah, I know I don't look a day over 51 3/4), I'm old enough to remember four weeks ago, when we were definitively told by PM Rishi 'The Brand' Sunak that "there will be no more talks on pay".

The BMA consultants are clearly right on the point of folding, given their statement that, in the absence of substantive talks with The Banker and co, they'll strike again in September.

Consultants in England to strike in September if government refuses talks
BMA highlights government’s ‘disregard … for the very future of the health service and its patients’

Naturally, The Banker responded with all the political maturity and wisdom that we'd expect from a man whose perma-baffled look has so ensnared the hearts of a grateful NHS leadership community, according to NHS Confed chief executive Matthew Taylor.

Just kidding!

STEVE BARCLAY: Doctors’ strike only serves to harm patients
STEVE BARCLAY: The British Medical Association continues to act recklessly by going ahead with further unnecessary strike action this week, which serves only to harm patients.

The Banker wrote this op-ed for the Mail to tell all those naughty, naughty striking doctors to stop their nonsense and jolly well get back to work right away, and be bloody grateful that they have a job to go back to, damn your eyes!

Yeah. That's bound to work.

Victorian paternalism and an NHS Schrodinger's Workforce

This Victorian paternalist 'clinicians should be seen and not heard' approach hasn't actually served the Conservative And Unionist Party terribly well thus far in the industrial dispute over pay, of course.

But allegedly, God loves a trier. (Christ knows why.)

Perhaps vindication will follow for the CAUP's religious faith in quantum physics, as expressed via their conceptualisation of an NHS Schrodinger's Workforce - simultaneously too trivial to pay properly, but too important to be let strike; a la Schrodinger's Cat, at once alive and dead. (Yes, like Matt Hancock's media career.)

But rather more probably, it won't.

The Ted Heath stage

Junior doctors’ strike: BMA ‘wants to bring down the government’
Governments are different, says union rep as medics begin four-day walkout

You can tell when a Government's really losing a nationally important argument: they segue to the 'who governs Britain?' gamble.

You can call it the 'Ted Heath stage'. It's rarely a high point of events for the government in question. Ted Heath took that gamble in 1974, and lost the subsequent General Election.

When BMA junior doctors' committee co-leader Robert Laurenson told the BBC R4 Today programme that in his opinion, the Scottish pay deal couldn't fly in England because of different trust relationships with the respective governments, we learned from The Times that "a source close to the health secretary, Steve Barclay, said: “this is a clear admission from the BMA junior doctors’ leadership that their strikes are part of a politically motivated campaign aimed at bringing down the government."

Oh dear, BankerSpAd.

Nice(ish) try, but a bit shrill.

Sign of the financial times

It's a statement of the obvious, but major French insurer AXA's chief executive Thomas Burberl telling the Financial Times that the deepening crisis facing the UK’s NHS will present “quite a few business opportunities” is, well, a sign of the financial times.

Axa's plan to expand its health insurance business further reflects system pressures driven by drug cost rises and workforce shortages. "This puts, by definition, the system under strain,”  Burberl said, predicting that the demographic challenge would get worse, given that “you don’t have enough inflow into medical professions” to make up for those heading into retirement.

“With what is happening at the moment, probably the first choice of a doctor that is newly qualified, it would not be the NHS,” he told the FT.

Babylon falls

This week, Babylon revealed that the rescue takeover deal has fallen through.

I know: it's bizarre that a business run by Aloytius Parsadoust has run into the financial sand. The announcement says that "the transaction proposed by AlbaCore Capital LLP and MindMaze Group SA, for a business combination of Babylon’s core operating subsidiaries with MindMaze, previously announced on June 23, 2023, will not proceed.

"Following Babylon’s receipt of funding under its amended bridge notes facility with AlbaCore, Babylon has no binding commitment for additional financing to continue its business operations.

"As a result, the Group is exploring new strategic alternatives in order to find the best possible outcome for its UK business. Babylon remains focused on continuing the day to day operations of its UK business, providing accessibility of its healthcare services and the highest standards of care for its patients and members.

"The Group is pursuing the divestiture of its UK business to third parties that may provide financing to assure the continuity of the operations. Babylon has built a successful, distinct and sustainable UK business which provides high quality healthcare to many. However, it cannot provide assurance that any of these initiatives will result in Babylon entering into a definitive agreement for or completing a divestiture."

Matt Hancock accused of breaching code over GP app endorsement
Labour calls for inquiry after health secretary praised firm in paid-for newspaper articles

It's astonishing to think that this could have happened to a business for which The People's Partridge so enthusiastically stanned.

Speaking of whom ...

The Alan comeuppance


I am kenough!💪 #justken #barbenheimer #kenough

♬ original sound - Matt Hancock

"I'm just Alan".

Insert your own jokes about plastic, unrealistic figures here.

Coronavirus and cronymillions update

The impressive Dan Neidle of Tax Policy Associates has been on the trail of Tory peer Baroness Michelle 'don't believe everything you think' Mone and her much-asserted absolute lack of direct connection with dodgy PPE Medpro.

The PPE cover-up: Douglas Barrowman’s hidden ownership and the potentially criminal consequences
The Guardian recently reported that two UK companies ultimately controlled by businessman Douglas Barrowman were the subject of PPE contract lobbying by his wife. I’ve no expertise or interest in the PPE contract issue. But I am interested in the fact that, while the Guardian says Barrowman con

And guess what? The noble Baroness Mone looks to be deep in the brown stuff, and I don't mean her habitual fake tan. Neidle claims to have established that "new evidence suggests that PPE Medpro’s true ownership was hidden by a company controlled by her husband, Douglas Barrowman. If that was intentional, then criminal offences were committed".


Still. Couldn't happen to a nicer Conservative And Unionist Party partisan peer bra vendor, that's what I say.

I wonder whether the noble Baroness Mone still believes everything she thinks now? Time, and the criminal justice system, will tell.

HSJ reports on NHS England's row with the Royal College of Physicians over virtual ward targets.

My column for Local Government Chronicle on what the NHS should (urgently) learn from local government.

Isabel Hardman hosted an NHS session on her Times Radio 'Drive' show on Friday, featuring Kings Fund director of policy Sally Warren and me (2 h 37 mins).

Interesting Times piece on remote working GPs.

GP magazine podcast interview with BMA GP committee lead Katie Barmhall-Stainer.