LETTER: Cure those patients, and that's an order

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The Independent Online
From Mr J. G. Scadding

Sir: The antics of our present Government remind me of an episode from my service in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Second World War.

In 1942, I was officer in charge of the medical division of a large military hospital in Egypt. Early in October, we had a visitation from the brigadier who was our local director of medical services. At the end of his inspection of each ward, he said to me: "You must get all these men out of hospital by the end of next week; you must send them out 100 per cent fit!".

All I could do then was to say: "Yes, sir", thinking what's the old fool up to now? A week or so later it became clear that this was his idea of the way to clear beds for casualties from the battle of Alamein.

I thought that this approach to administration by ordering other people to do the impossible was probably confined to a certain sort of limited military mind. But the Government repeatedly shows how widespread this idea is. The whole panoply of charters and targets displayed before us provides many examples of it.

These airy exhortations to other people are sometimes combined with refusal by the Government itself to take obviously desirable action; e.g. setting a target for the reduction of smoking while refusing to ban cigarette advertising.

The most recent example of the Government's devotion to my brigadier's idea of administration is the approval of pay rises for teachers without providing local authorities with the means to pay them.

Yours faithfully,


Emeritus Professor of Medicine

Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

9 February