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SPINNING THE DOCTORS

17-04-2007

Defence Minister Des Browne said sorry yesterday for allowing Britain’s captured marines to sell their stories to the press, but Dr David Nicholl reckons we’re focusing on the wrong apology. There’s been scarcely a word about Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt’s far more shocking admission that the government cocked-up the new recruitment system for junior doctors.

I’m a doctor not a spin doctor but….if you want to bury bad news, let the story come out on a Friday. With MMC (Modernising Medical Careers) the controversial new recruitment system for junior doctors, this has happened on three of the last 4 Fridays. (OK, so even a spin doctor needs to have a break at Easter.)

However, when things are going really badly (like when 2 of the major architects of the scheme, Prof Alan Crockard and Shelly Heard have resigned), you get all your apologies out at once but make sure that the really big screw ups get ignored by saying sorry for something else first and then slipping in the ‘big one’ after.

Thus it was that yesterday, we had Des Browne apologising for his conduct over the Iran hostage ordeal. OK, he messed up, but it hasn’t cost huge amounts of money and some of the former hostages have ended up making fools of themselves, but no-one has been hurt.

But then, we had the crowning glory for a true spin doctor, Patricia Hewitt slipped in an apology for what has happened with MMC - a story which ultimately has far greater significance, but which is receiving much less coverage.

In Hewitt’s typically slippery style there was no clarification of the numbers involved, though. Reports variously suggest that there will be between 18,500-22,000 posts available for 30,000-34,000 applicants.

Well, what’s the difference between 8,000 and 15,500 unemployed doctors? Try about £2 billion versus almost £4 billion to train them at £250,000 each.

Anyhow, the opposition politicians and the mainstream press grabbed the wrong bait and went for Des Browne when they should have stayed awake and followed the numbers with Patricia Hewitt. They simply don’t add up, as reported previously by the Stirrer over a month ago.

If I had a trainee doctor who was so shoddy with their data, I would drag them over the coals. As I said, I’m not a spin doctor nor a journalist -but if I was a journalist I would be following those numbers and that money very closely.

Oh, and if you think £2 billion is a lot of money to chase,I’m not even counting the cost of all those new medical schools (the Univ of East Anglia and the Peninsular medical school in Cornwall) that have been built, plus the extension of existing medical schools, all of which we probably don’t need now.

Anyhow, I and a lot of other doctors will be going to Westminster on April 24th- the first time ever doctors have had a mass lobby of Parliament. Maybe we should start with a maths lesson.

Are you affected by the MMC fiasco? Is Patricia Hewitt's "hidden" apology another classic case of New Labour spin-doctoring? Leave a comment on our messageboard.

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