Sunday, June 28, 2009

Six new rights - spin not substance

So are the new 'rights' for patients being unveiled by Gordon Brown anything but spin? He has promised to scrap unpopular targets in favour of a list of rights that patients can demand:
  • An operation within 18 weeks of patients first seeing their GP
  • A free health check-up for all at the age of 40
  • Treatment from an NHS dentist
  • Die at home if they suffer from a long-term medical condition
  • See a cancer specialist within two weeks
  • Be treated in accident & emergency departments within four hours.
They all sound great but strangely familiar, except perhaps for NHS dentistry. Firstly, I doubt very much whether these targets will be scrapped in favour of a 'patient' right. I can't see Brown trying to defend himself on why he doesn't know what the length of waits are and I can't see Burnham not getting concerned if the number of people waiting 18 weeks waits was to increase.

Of course ministers will keep a close eye on these areas and they will come down hard on hospitals and PCTs who are seeing increasing waits. Laissez faire is not something that Labour are good at. It would be quite a bizzarre state of affairs to have a government in a position that it doesn't monitor and manage key indicators of accessibility for NHS service.

This is clearly spin rather than substance, but that said, making it clear what patients should expect is welcome.

The dentistry right is the interesting one. Access to NHS dentistry is extremely patchy across the country and needs significant investment and time to get it right. How many people will have their right to an NHS dentist met by a dentist 20 miles away?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Green MEP for the South East Caroline Lucas has challenged the Secretary of State for Health Andy Burnham over his position as vice president of the British Fluoridation Society – at a time when health authorities in Southampton were giving the green light to a “mass medication” water fluoridation scheme.

The Health Secretary was instrumental in proposing the inclusion of compulsory water fluoridation in the Government’s 2003 Water Act. He resigned from this position in recent weeks, but Dr Lucas MEP today joined with UK Councils Against Fluoridation (UKCAF) to question why Mr Burnham’s links with the Society were not included in his register of interests, despite strict Parliament regulations stating such interests must be declared.

Dr Lucas MEP said: “It is of great concern that the Health Secretary was able to closely align himself with a body whose sole business it is to promote water fluoridation, at the same time that he was due to make key decisions about the future of the UK’s water supply. Parliament’s regulations on MPs’ interests are supposed to prevent alliances which can fundamentally inform policy – but clearly they are not fit for purpose.”

Earlier this year, the Green MEP warned that the region’s health authorities were setting a “reckless precedent" for future fluoridation schemes in the South East with their decision to press ahead with fluoridation plans in Southampton.

Although 72% of people in Southampton voted against fluoridation in a poll conducted by the Strategic Health Authority, the SHA is pressing ahead with the scheme. A legal case regarding the highly criticised consultation process has been announced and legal aid has been obtained by the person bringing the case against South Central SHA.

Dr Lucas MEP commented: "The ill-advised decision to implement water fluoridation in Southampton demonstrates contempt for the views of many local people - and for the evidence against fluoridation itself.

"Water fluoridation has simply not been proven to be effective for teeth, and some studies have indicated links between fluoridation and serious ill health effects, including thyroid problems, skeletal fluorosis, bone cancers and mental problems.

"The scheme in Southampton amounts to a mass medication of the population. I have made a formal complaint to the European Commission regarding the failure of the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to properly classify hexafluorosilic acid, used in fluoridation of drinking water under the UK Water Act 2003, as a medicinal product. The correct classification would likely mean the UK’s water fluoridation schemes would contravene EU law.

“In place of mass fluoridation, the UK Government could be improving the health of our teeth through targeted schemes such as providing free toothpaste for poor families. This decision in Southampton sets a reckless precedent for future fluoridation plans in the South East, and we must be vigilant of further attempts to affect our water in this way."


Notes to Editors

For more information on UK Councils Against Fluoridation, visit

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Letter to Indy on dentistry

Letter to the Independent on the new dentistry report:

Sir, The renewed debate on NHS dentistry is very welcome and Professor Steele's report contains some useful ideas, however unless the government addresses the real problem that many people simply can't afford to pay for dental treatments, improvements in dental health will not take great leaps forward.

Dentistry could easily be funded through taxation and be free at the point of need, making it a universal service and not one that is 'expensive or slightly less expensive'. Free access to dentistry would cost a fraction of the money spent on NHS IT or running the NHS market, yet would deliver massive benefits to the people who need it most.

It is time that the government addressed the real problem, that NHS dentistry fails the primary test of NHS services - it is not free at the point of need.

Stuart Jeffery
Health spokesperson for the Green Party