Parliamentary sketch – out of hours should not be out of view

Posted on: 30th October 2012

Like some of you, I was greeted this week with media images of a fellow Parliamentarian strutting his past-sell-by-date physique around a football field. The said green bench colleague highlighted in this ‘for sore eyes only’ display was Labour’s, perhaps appropriately named, Ed Balls; former Minister, now Shadow Chancellor.

I regret to say that your slightly more elderly local MP is also a regular on the field for the occasional Parliamentary Football Team. I’m sure I make Ed look youthful and Olympian by contrast.

There’s one other interesting factor the two of us have in common. (Apart from us both having successfully irritated the front bench of the Coalition Government, that is). We both (and I believe we’re the only MPs) have a significant speech impediment. (I’ll grant you that it’s not a clever thing to have in a profession which requires high levels of confidence in articulate diction).

His seems to be less pronounced than mine. I’ve learnt, over the years, to do my best to find methods to mask the disability. But those who suffered any association with me during my upbringing at schools in Mullion, Cury or at Helston may recollect the pain of waiting for me to finish sentences or (a stammerer’s night mare) order something simple, like a ticket, after waiting in a queue.

I hope that we are both able to show that a disability should not be a barrier…though we ought to get the message that it’s better to hang up your boots before you’re well past it, and before you become a shameful embarrassment to your children, and humanity at large. In my case that’s probably at least twenty years ago!


There are many pressures on our core public services and it’s never easy to get decisions right, let alone successfully explain why things are as they are when many in the media want to put them through a Hillsborough-style “Truth” initiation process.

Some people have reasonably asked me why I referred the Serco “Out of Hours” (OoH) GP service to the Care Quality Commission. In July the CQC found that there were staffing problems and that there had been some tampering with the statistics on which its performance is judged.

Now, I don’t believe that our “Out of Hours” (OoH) GP service is either on the verge of collapse, nor fundamentally unsafe. However, I do think it should be properly accountable and should not risk cutting corners such that patient safety may become compromised. The news that there has been at least one noted occasion when the whole of the half million+ population of Cornwall has been dependent upon just one GP for its OoH GP service will come as a shocking surprise for some.

The staff are, of course, hard working and dedicated. But as some of you already know, I’m not personally convinced that such essential public services are best run when they are driven by private profit (for Company shareholders) motives rather than by concern for patient care, and a public service ethos.

So I’m pleased to have another opportunity to visit the service next week and to again meet some of the senior management who are putting in place measures to deal with any of the service difficulties identified. The decision to place important services like the OoH GP service in the hands of a private company was made under the previous Labour administration in 2006, not as some imagine under the present administration.

However, given that there will be increasing emphasis placed on discharging patients out of hospital sooner and avoiding what are considered unnecessary admissions to hospital in the first place, the capacity of the emergency GP service (one which covers at least 120 of the 168 hours in each week) becomes more important. That’s why we should all pay attention.


2nd October 2012