Clara Gerada is no ordinary doctor. As Medical Director of the NHS Practitioner Health Programme, she provides confidential medical advice for doctors and dentists. In a combative debate with The Spectator's Frasier Nelson, Gerada reveals that she is seeing more doctors with depression and health problems than ever before. She also takes Nelson to task for supporting Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's proposals to rip up junior doctors' contracts, and to get them in to work more over the weekend in order to fulfil an eye-catching "7 day NHS" manifesto pledge. The problem with his proposals, says Gerada, besides the obvious danger of overworked health professionals and the tendency to see them as commodities rather than people with lives outside a hospital, is that the justification is based on misleading statistics that show patients admitted to hospital on Sunday more likely to die. What Nelson and Hunt know full well, is that the government is comparing weekend figures with weekday figures, but that the types of patients in those figures are completely different. Weekend admissions are always of a different nature since routine operations are almost never carried out on a Saturday or Sunday. Those who are admitted on those days are therefore more likely to be emergencies, hence why they are more likely to die.
And then there is the Tory claim that they are offering an 11% pay offer to sweeten the pill, which Gerada describes as Tory "double speak", since overtime pay for weekend working is to be reduced significantly.
As with rising waiting times, the Conservatives are hoping that by repeating false information (crisis, what crisis?) we will all come round to a kind of group think, and that the Tory press machine led by the likes of Frasier Nelson will facilitate that. Yet simple experience of the NHS prevents this from ever happening. You can't convince people that you are "investing" in the NHS if you aren't training enough doctors, and if you are trying to get the existing ones to do more for less. You can't persuade people the NHS is getting better if those very people are on a three-million long waiting list.