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Sunday 23rd October 2016

Deciding is hard, reporting is easy

15th September 2006

15092006_newspapers1.jpgEarlier this year the effectiveness and affordability of the PFI programme was thrown into doubt when the Barts scheme was delayed because the finances didn’t appear to stack up. A combination of low interest rates and the new Payment by Results system made the financial numbers difficult to square.

The new £560m development in Birmingham just scraped through the curfew and every other PFI scheme in the country was then put on hold while the government’s Private Finance Unit undertook a review. The nation held its breath; was the new hospital building programme that has been a hallmark of the government’s NHS agenda now at an end? Were the schemes close to the finish line now to be left in limbo? Apparently not - thankfully.

Reporting the reporters gives a new perspective on media coverage - it can be confusing when you’re trying to take a balanced view. So on the day when the government announced that £1.5bn of PFI schemes were to be given the green light, it was interesting to note that some quarters of the news media led with the headline that ten major hospitals were threatened with closure. So was this a good news story or not? Were the media exposed in their particular partisan views or was this another “very good day? to bury bad news? It can sometimes be difficult to fathom...

The last few weeks have seen a lot of giving with the right hand while apparently - according to the media - taking away with the left. So on cue we were asked first to cheer as Herceptin was cleared by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and to jeer as Avastin and Erbitux were deemed not cost effective enough to fight bowel cancer.

Applause for lesbians and single mothers right to IVF, boos for withdrawing fertility treatment from anyone with a body-mass index of 36 or more.

We should resist the temptation to play the game by these rules. It’s common sense that if we are to keep opening new hospitals we must close old ones; in an environment where overall we need fewer hospital facilities, that’s surely the whole point. If NICE were to simply approve everything then it wouldn’t need to exist. If resources are limited then applying clinical (rather than ethical) criteria as to who gets priority NHS treatment is better than no system at all. In the final analysis there’s no good or bad about any of these announcements. Every day experts are asked to make difficult decisions - so let’s remember; deciding is hard, reporting is easy.

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