Dr No is getting increasingly bored by the futility of the gesture politics flaming round the NHS reforms. Being bored, he found himself, by quirk of a daydream, thinking of another kind of bored, a chess board, and for a moment he saw the end game of this blasted bill as a game of chess, played not on a square, but on a triangle. Three opposing GP sides – for as Dr No has said many times, it is in the hands of GPs that the fate of the bill now rests – face each other across this lone and level triangle, one side dark, another light, and the third grey.
Who, then, do we find on the opposing sides in this end game? On the dark side, we find, as we did last Sunday, the likes of Hot Burning Coales, pro-government, pro-competition, pro-private sector and so pro-reform. Their strength is that they are aligned with government, and government with them, but their evidence is blown, and their arguments in tatters. Neither stridency nor volume could save HBC’s case for the reforms, as they wilted and folded, a styrofoam cup of competition coffee microwaved in the radiant beam of Evan Harris’s glare.
On the light side, we have the true beating heart of general practice, a gentle and benevolent practice; practice that suffereth long, and is kind; but not puffed up. It is the side on which general practice thrives as a local and much loved cottage industry; a benign industry where the owners tolerate the pains of running a business for the precious gift of independent self-employment. This is the general practice that the British people have known, and still love and cherish, from the glens of Tannochbrae to the light glowing in the grime of Cronin’s Citadel; medicine at its very best.
The dark side and the light side are evenly matched in weight, on the right and left side of the triangle, but the longest, and base, side of this triangle, for in Dr No’s daydream it is a wide flat isosceles triangle, has ranged along it the grey majority of general practitioners. These are the hollow men, and the stuffed women, leaning together in greyness, heads filled with straw, that yet in their numbers and mass hold the power to decide the fate of the government’s health service reforms. For it is this grey mass of GPs, and this grey mass alone, that has in its gift the power to make or break the reforms. They are the pawns, the foot soldiers, who will – or, if they so choose, will not – carry out the will and command of the government’s reforms.
The Red Queen of the grey side is Dr Clare Gerada. For some time, Dr Gerada has rallied her grey pawns, and led them in growing opposition; but more lately she appears to have been overtaken by frequent bouts of twitteritis. That is no way to win a game, be it chess or any other. Dr No believes the time has arrived to commence the end game: the grey side must now to join forces with the light side, and so square the triangle, and in their joint weight move to check mate the dark side, and with it that blasted bill. If not, we may soon find of general practice:
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away…