“Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
–Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Silver Blaze, 1892
Like Dr Watson, Dr No is in awe of Sherlock Holmes, and forever baffled by his cryptic utterings. Unlike Dr Watson, who had the delight and privilege of watching Holmes in action at first hand, the rest of us must enjoy Holmes at our leisure, and many will already know that the reason the dog did not bark was because the visitor was someone whom the dog knew well. Dr No finds himself wondering whether a similar reason might explain the BBC’s ongoing curious incidents on the Health and Social Care Bill. The BBC should be barking like a Baskerville about it, but instead much of the time it remains silent. When it does make a noise, it is more whimper than bark. Could it be that the BBC knows who its master is?
BBC One’s News at Ten’s mission statement these days appears to be to show those of us stuck on the home front that, come what may, the BBC is still out there, cutting mustard on the world front. Even if Aldermaston were to go thermo-nuclear, Nice Huw would still be chatting to a headscarf in Tehran about Iran’s thermo-nuclear ambitions. “Thanks Orla. That was Orla for us, talking to us from Tehran.” That’s another nice thing about Huw. He always goes the extra mile to tell us who’s behind the headscarf, and what’s going on. Unless, that is, what is going on happens to be the Health and Social Care Bill.
Radio Four’s Today programme isn’t doing much better. Recent moves to a witches’ coven style presentation, replete with cackling noises, have gone far to lift the programme’s prior gravitas. Being radio, one cannot see who is doing the cackling, but one has strong suspicions that it is Humph and the Accidental Sassenach, remembering the good times over a shared dish of eye of newt and toe of frog. Whoever it is, it isn’t Monty the White Witch, because she does a different class of cackle; nor is it Wingnut who, being still in shorts, does more giggling than cackling.
When not cackling away amongst themselves, the Today presenters do occasionally find time to cover the Health and Social Care Bill. In this they are invariably assisted by their sorcerer’s apprentice, Adam Brimelow. Being an apprentice, Mr Brimelow has but a limited clutch of spells, his favourite and most practiced one being the Independent NHS Future Forum spell, but as spells go, the binding is wearing a bit thin. He probably needs to add a bit more adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, if he wants listeners to believe the Future Forum really is independent.
Dud spells notwithstanding, over the last week, Today appears to have covered the HSCB and NHS reforms one way or another four times. Last Tuesday we had the joint BMJ/Health Service Journal/Nursing Times ‘unholy mess’ editorial. The following day, Wednesday, we had Tankers Field and Ham out doing a bit of steam-rollering, and on Friday, a story about hospital mortality was bizarrely spinjacked, and turned into a 24/7 hospital/fantastic business for Britain/that’s how we’ll put the compassion back into the NHS vision. And lastly, today, Humph, the Senior Grey Witch, recalled Dickie Bow Dixon from the front-line to tell us how things were going. Swimmingly, apparently: “real reform,” with front-line doctors and nurses in the “driving seat”. Dr Dixon is a man who clearly favours being up front, in the driving seat. One wonders how he manages back seat drivers.
Now, the question Dr No asks is: how balanced is this coverage? Last Tuesday, the pro-bill protagonist was one Dr Charles Alessi, chair of the National Association of Primary Care, and described by Pulse as ‘one of the most vocal advocates of the Government’s NHS reforms’. On Wednesday, we had a double-decker sandwich of pro-bill heavyweights, assisted by Messrs Brimelow and Seddon, pitched against a hapless Baroness Williams, who sounded like an increasingly distant rambler with her bloomers caught in the brambles. Friday’s spinjacker was none other than Prof Cough, a Department of Health Chief Pongo. And finally, today’s Dickie-Bow Dixon, Attila the Commissioner, up against a hapless Prof Lister, who spoke in a disembodied voice, as if hiding behind a veil, as well he might, faced with Dixon’s Dickie-Bow at such an ungodly hour of the morning.
So: we had three anti-bill speakers (Godlee, Williams and Lister), pitched against six pro-bill speakers (Alessi, Field, Ham, Seddon, Keogh and Dixon). That, even by numbers alone, does not seem balanced. And if we add that two of the pro-bill speakers come from the Kommissioning SS, two are in or in close contact with government, and two belong to pro-reform thinks tanks, then, we might be forgiven for thinking, that not only is the coverage numerically unbalanced, it is further strongly weighted towards the extreme view, the government stooge, and the professional lobbyist – and hardly a reflection of what used to be called the groundswell of grass roots opinion.
Balanced? No. Biased? Yes. Just plain Conkers? Well – that depends which way your wind blows.