The Sketch: No blood, no flying body parts. Where's the fun in that?

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The Independent Online

I'm beginning to think, and not for the first time, that the Tories have had it. In Health questions they were quietly, almost casually slaughtered. There didn't seem to be much blood or flying body parts at the time - there really wasn't much to enjoy in that sense - but, looking back on it, they were unseam'd from the nave to the chops.

I'm beginning to think, and not for the first time, that the Tories have had it. In Health questions they were quietly, almost casually slaughtered. There didn't seem to be much blood or flying body parts at the time - there really wasn't much to enjoy in that sense - but, looking back on it, they were unseam'd from the nave to the chops.

But first the skirmishes: Michael Fallon was able to say that a constituent of his had to wait 72 weeks for a scan. The ministerial reply was that nobody waited more than 12 months for an operation. These two statements are connected. Often, to get on a waiting list for an operation you have to have a scan; your waiting time begins at the moment you go on a list. You can wait 72 weeks without being recognised as waiting (you have to remember, after all, that this is politics).

The data ministers rely on is often corrupt in this way. How corrupt? The Tories should know, but don't. When the minister says 99 per cent of cancer victims are seen by a specialist within two weeks, it may or may not be true. As evidence, he says cancer deaths have reduced astonishingly in Labour's first five years. Can we argue with that? Ought we to try?

Yes, actually: as the Liberal Democrat Patsy Calton pointed out, much of the reduction is caused by a drop in lung cancer - the credit for which goes not to the Government but to a 30-year campaign that has convinced many British men to stop smoking.

But the front bench ascendancy is complete. John Hutton dismissed the Tory attack on wet age-related macular disease, blandly asserting that everything they'd said about it was wrong. If John Reid had been leading for the Opposition, he would have pounded the Government into a bloody, pullulating mess.

For Mr Reid has a bouncer's punch and a wrestler's grip. When he wallops the Opposition, they stay walloped. Yesterday, he produced a list of statistics to show that just 5 per cent of the thousands of new NHS jobs created were the bureaucrats that we complain of ("more bureaucrats than beds" was the phrase that pays, if you remember). Then he defended the use of private surgery, saying that the South African eye surgeons clearing the cataract lists are being paid 10 per cent less than the NHS tariff.

Those assertions may or may not be true (the Tories should know, but don't). But most damaging for them - Mr Reid's plan is a bolder use of the free market than anything the Tories have yet proposed. Public money bulk-buying private companies for services has long been the Sketch's health policy and it's worrying to see it being taken up as I'll have nothing to complain about. And that just wouldn't do.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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