2 min read

Editorial Tuesday 22 November 2011: OSALavision, or how I learned to stop worrying and love Big Brother

You have heard the phrase 'life imitating art'. Health policy is currently imitating a sub-Brian Rix farce, starring Our Saviour And Liberator Andrew Lansley, Secretary Of State For Health.


Click here for details of 'ACO = RIP AQP + PbR - liberated NHS fails to metastatise; goes meta- with stasis', the new issue of subscription-based Health Policy Intelligence.


Not only did I just find out that the new headquarters of the NHS Commissioning Board has a swimming pool (and good for them; be nice if more employers put exercise facilities at work), but I discovered via chums on the increasingly invaluable Twitter (where I am found as @HPIAndyCowper) that the new domain of Comrade Sir David and Chairman Mal has a rather funky multicoloured hand-woven carpet, costing £14,410 excluding VAT (i.e. about £500 per square foot). (It was put there in the early 90s when Quarry House was built, and is still there, looking good if you like multicoloured wavy lines).

Not only that, but when the NHS Executive was based in Quarry House, it used to be affectionately known as 'The Kremlin'.

Yes, folks: the NHS Commissioning Board's HQ has a hand-made carpet and a swimming pool, and is known as 'The Kremlin'.

Even better than this, the story in The Independent and the Telegraph about OSALavision made my morning.

The BBC summarises the story, with a Today programme interview with Mr Lansley, here.

I am at a slight loss for words about this whole story. Whoever thought it would be a good idea for this message to be recorded and put on loop until you register has got the vaguest notion of opt-in consent imaginable.

More to the point, Mr Lansley is meant to be a Liberator. Not a micro-manager. Not a focal point for complaints. That is wholly against the grain and philosophy of his reforms.

The notion that the Secretary Of State For Health is the best spearhead for a movement to elicit patient complaints is at best confused and contrary to the aim of a decentralised NHS. We are back to the sound of dropped bedpans in Tredegar resonating in the corridors of Whitehall.

(It is also far from clear that this method of encouraging complaints actually works: I'd love to see the evidence.)

At worst, it is simply bloody silly. For all that I and many others mock politicians (and we should mock those in power over us, as a matter of principle), most are trying to do what they believe is the right thing. Knee-jerk opprobium against politicians as shady or dishonest is often un-merited. Addressing and analysing their arguments is what's needed.

All that said, this is the media equivalent to wearing a 'kick me!' t-shirt. If I were ill enough to need to be in hospital, and I was obliged to register my details with a patient entertainment system to stop it showing me a message from the Health Secretary (whichever health secretary), I hope I should still have the physical strength to attempt to test that patient entertainment system to destruction.

Many patients in hospital, of course, don't - and putting a message from a politician on loop is not only a bit Big Brother-ish in the true Orwellian sense, it shows scant regard for notions of patient experience and choice.

Which, ironically, are key subjects for Mr Lansley.

A PR own goal on this scale is perhaps not unexpected from the man who said "I'm not in this for the politics". It does, however, suggest that his media handlers have a tin ear. Which should be a cause for concern.