Owen Paterson is not fit for purpose


lots of water and antibiotics

It’s probably no exaggeration to say the NHS saved my life last week.

I had been having some odd pains for about a month which eventually turned out to be a kidney stone. This is unimaginably painful unless you have had one (and now I realise many people have.) The stone wasn’t playing ball (sorry) and got stuck, blocking the flow of urine from one kidney, causing a kidney infection that was rapidly turning into sepsis. I had an operation to bypass the stone and was pumped full of antibiotics. I have been in and out of our local hospital quite a few times over the past 10 days and have nothing but praise for our overworked nurses, doctors and support staff. I am now back at home.

No, the NHS is not perfect, by any means.

The number of times I saw hospital staff (and GPs) struggling with IT systems which seemed to go on the blink all too often, was surprising. I also saw doctors having to make difficult decisions about who to keep in (taking up precious beds) and who to send home. The collapse in social care services makes it much more difficult to send home patients who are well enough, if they have home support. The 111 phone services were always stretched, and the ambulance which eventually arrived to take me into A and E turned out to be a paramedic car, in the front seat of which I sat (dosed on morphine) to be transported.

But everyone I encountered was kind, helpful and did all they could to make me better.

This experience is still rather fresh in my mind – I’m still on extra strength antibiotics, am probably still fighting off some nasty bugs;  have some new plumbing (a uretal stent) and I still have the stone, to be dealt with at a later date. I’m unable to do anything else for quite a while, other than sit in front of a computer; and waddle to the loo all too often.

And then I noticed our old friend Owen Paterson, former Secretary of State against the Environment, has published a report today, under the banner of his secretively funded “think tank” UK 2020.

The report, “The UK health system – an international comparison of health outcomes” was written by Kristian Niemietz of the corporate libertarian think-tank the Institute of Eeconomic Affairs (the IEA), about which I have written many times. Niemietz may be a clever person, but he is not a health economist or any kind of health academic. The paper is not peer-reviewed and I have no idea whether the approach, comparing something called amenable mortality, across different countries, has any basis in science or statistical validity.

But the IEA have been regularly promoting the idea that NHS should be broken up and sold off. This unbiased piece, for example from Dr Niemietz – “Those who oppose NHS privatisation are really opposed to patient choice” gives a flavour of the position they take.

Niemitz is evidently working on a project of some considerable scope for the IEA, funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation. Templeton are well known for supporting projects which link christianity and science, though in this case the Templeton Foundation may well be continuing a very long standing mutual friendship that started with the founders of both organisations – Antony Fisher and John Templeton, both members of the right-libertarian Mont Pelerin Society.

I find it useful to check how many times a report author cites their own (non peer-reviewed) papers. For this UK2020 report, Niemietz self refers to no less than five other IEA-published papers he wrote himself. By comparison Niemietz neglects to reference a key paper from the Office for National Statistics in 2010 which concluded that

“there is insufficient evidence on how much of the decline in amenable mortality can be attributed to the healthcare system.” (Kamarudeen 2010 )

Niemitz was “borrowed” by UKIP2020 from the IEA to write the report, apparently. Conveniently, both thinktanks operate out of exactly the same building, 55 Tufton Street – along with a whole load of other right wing “free market” libertarian outfits – as described in this excellent infographic from earlier this year.

Let’s assume (just for arguments sake) that what the report says is true – that the NHS is not as good at achieving preventable deaths from cancer, stroke, heart disease etc as other countries’ healthcare systems. The report makes no attempt to investigate why this might be.

  • Could it be that the NHS is being starved of resources by a Government hell bent on breaking it up and selling it off to their mates?
  • Could it be that the NHS staff morale is sinking like a stone (sorry) because the Health Secretary is attacking them and forcing them to sign contracts they know will threaten patient health?
  • Could it be that the fake NHS internal market created by this Government has only created lots of jobs for managers, who actually make it more difficult for health care professionals to do their jobs and help people get better?
  • Could it be that the creeping privatisation of services within the NHS is actually making the whole organisation work less effectively.

It could be all or none of these things, but the report isn’t interested in the whys and wherefores, it’s mission is to rubbish the NHS, in comparison with other countries.

The report claims that it has no interest in identifying what sort of solutions would help improve the NHS. Fortunately for us Owen Paterson has about as much ability to stay on message as Donald Trump on crystal meth.

Paterson, writing on the Conservative Home website this morning boldly announced that

“it’s time to face up to the grim truth – the NHS isn’t fit for purpose.”

Now one might think that Paterson was only interested in helping develop a new national health system that was the envy of the world, for purely altruistic reasons. Until that is, I point out to you that the report was sponsored by Randox Laboratories.

Randox is a private healthcare company, based in Northern Ireland, where Paterson was shadow secretary of state for a while. Here’s Paterson being vigorously lobbied by Randox back in 2011 – when Randox called for “red tape” strangling innovation to be removed.

Paterson obviously got on well with Randox founder and owner Peter Fitzgerald as they both love horses. Perhaps that’s why Randox made Paterson their President in 2015, for which he now receives over £4000 a month for around 8 hours work. And he’s a regular guest (all expenses paid) at the Randox international Polo festival.

Randox are also the new sponsor of the Grand National and now provide healthcare to the Jockey Club.

Randox also supply 1 in 10 of the world’s cholesterol checks. Randox have recently opened a load of new clinics where you can go and pay for lots of medical tests.


Randox: “a world leader in clinical diagnostic solutions”








As to whether you need them or not is another matter. After all, as Dr Niemietz says, patient choice is the most important thing, right? well actually, no – funnily enough the experts ie the doctors and other healthcare professionals in the NHS have spent years training and are paid to make those difficult decisions, obviously in consultation with the patients.

With that in mind, today a group of Royal Colleges published “choosing wisely” which identified a range of unnecessary medical procedures and tests. One of those identified is the Prostate cancer PSA test.

As the Royal College of Pathologists puts it:

Unless a patient is at risk of prostate cancer because of race or family history, PSA-based screening does not lead to a longer life.

But Randox have developed a really clever new cheap Prostate PSA test, which simply must be used – it says so in the Daily Mail so it must be true.

It turns out that the NHS is wasting money doing lots of procedures and tests which are pointless at best, and in some cases (including diagnostic testing) may actually do more harm than good.

And politicians like Owen Paterson, who are supposed to be acting in the public interest, appear to be promoting private healthcare, for their own personal gain.

About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in NHS, Owen Paterson, Randox Laboratories and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Owen Paterson is not fit for purpose

  1. pete johnstone says:

    Get better soon and don’t worry about Patterson!

  2. chris prescott says:

    NHS >> Underfund >> Demoralise >> Privatise
    Standard Tory quick fix!

  3. Nimby says:

    If we stopped spending silly figures on think tank twaddle we could increase NHS funding.

    It’s also time they stopped allowing Ministers and maybe even MPs to have other jobs or potential conflicts of interest? Then after departure they should be barred from such consultancy roles for say ten years?

    It used to be that folk became MPs for the public good not personal profit and aggrandisement. Please, politicians rescue the reputation of your ‘profession’ and purge Parliament of “c**p” ….

  4. Green__Jenny says:

    Great riposte to Owen Patterson’s NHS bashing nonsense, thank you. Hope you are better soon.

  5. Rachel says:

    Thank you for this. It was a tonic following my day of despair yesterday after reading the report and the Twitter feeds for Owen Paterson and James Bartholomew. It’s a hopeless report lacking any of the credentials usually required (as you said – no peer review) but managed to make it into the Independent and the Telegraph. The section on amenable mortality as an example. Apparently avoidable maternal deaths are 25 per 1000 in the UK (the highest) and France is 0 per 1000 which most statisticians would raise an eyebrow at. Confidential enquirey into maternal deaths 1998-2007 in France reported that half were avoidable, and now they’re at zero. Seems odd.

  6. evh says:

    You demonstrated well why their concept patient choice is nonsense. In your hours of agony and sepsis you didn’t care and weren’t able to chose which hospital and which urologist you wanted. you couldn’t research all the options, read all the up to date papers, weigh up outcomes vs. your preferences and then make a decision? No, all you wanted was to go to place best able to help you out, and if you were in another city, you’d hope that the hospital there would be good care there too.

    When you are ill, your choices are very limited. Your choices are even more limited if you have a chronic or rare disease, or have no money. The NHS is fantastic because it provides good care to everyone, regardless of their ability to chose or pay. You can relax knowing you will be looked after. OK this doesn’t always happen and it’s not the best but that’s through lack of funding and staffing and longterm consistent good quality management of core services, not because the food isn’t great or because the hospital doesn’t have a fancy logo, in-house juggler or answers to shareholders rather than the patients.

    When I’m ill I want good care by dedicated, happy and well supported professionals. I want to get better. I’m not bothered about where I get the care, what the food is like or whether there is a piano in the main entrance (yes, in US hospitals they have grand pianos in the entrance, and then bill you millions). I’m glad you are feeling better: you deserve to feel reassured that if you are sick you won’t have to worry: the NHS will care for you.

    The NHS will be around as long as there are people like you who will fight for it, and there are people like us who will dedicate our lives to making it work.

    • Miles King says:

      thanks Esther. You have made me cry.

      • evh says:

        Hopefully for good reasons! 🙂

      • Miles King says:

        very much so. I think it also brought home to me what a traumatic experience it has been, and how I have been gently, kindly, drawn through the experience by all the healthcare professionals who crossed my path.

        I saw nurses and doctors running down corridors to get from one patient to the next. Nurses skipping lunch because they didnt have time to eat. Loads of people staying on long after their shifts had finished because there was no-one else to take their places. At times it felt like they were all resisting an inexorable momentum within the system that was moving in the wrong direction, for them, for their patients.

        Of course that may have been hallucinatory brought on by copious voltarol and oramorph.

  7. Green__Jenny says:

    Miles please would it be ok to re-blog your post on Calderdale & Kirklees 999 call for the NHS, with full credit to you and your blog and link back to your blog? https://calderdaleandkirklees999callforthenhs.wordpress.com/

  8. Jane Pursey says:

    Blimey you have been through the mill, pleased to see that it hasn’t stopped your ability to write. You were in good hands, I have heard nothing but praise for Dorchester hospital, hope you continue on the road to recovery.

    Patterson was no good as Environmental minister either, trying to work out how to deal with the floods, but I think the feeling now is that he was preferable to the currant one.

    • Miles King says:

      thanks Jane. Yes DCH is an excellent hospital, though like all the others is being starved of funds, while the demand for its services increases hugely. Dorset is attracting in wealthy pensioners but they also come with more medical needs than the average population. But this has not been addressed by the provision of health services. GPs are all struggling, some are closing. Which places even more pressure on the hospitals. What will happen if we have a flu epidemic this winter?

      As to whether Leadsom is better or worse than Paterson, the jury is still out. She hasn’t been in the job long enough.

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  10. Bald Rick says:

    Miles, I can sympathise! After being pumped full of anti-b’s you might want to check out probiotics. Symprove did the biz for me.

  11. @JagPatel3 says:

    This is a very familiar story – the association between elite politicians and the Private Sector.

    The ‘revolving door’ is one reason why public trust in Government and Public Sector institutions has fallen to a new low. This is because lobbying and corruption rear their ugly heads every time public money crosses the boundary between the Public Sector and the Private Sector.

    Whereas media focus is on the small number of high-profile political elite who shamelessly exploit their previous contacts and know-how they have accumulated whilst in the pay of the State to line their own pockets and unwittingly skew the market in favour of their new paymasters in the Private Sector, the journey made by thousands of ordinary public servants underneath them, who are also looking to follow the example set by their political masters and cash-in on this bonanza, has escaped scrutiny.

    Of course, everyone has a right to sell their labour in the free market to whomsoever they wish, for whatever price they can command. However, the brazen way the political elite have gone about exercising this freedom without any checks and controls on the way they go about disseminating privileged information about inner workings of Government is scandalous, and always to the detriment of taxpayers – which is what they promised they would protect whilst in the pay of the State!

    The military-political-industrial complex has been the original model for lobbying and corruption from the earliest of times – indeed, the career prospects of people in the pay of the State are inextricably linked to those with the means to produce weapons systems, facilitated by the ‘revolving door’ and intense lobbying behind the scenes where it matters most, in the corridors of power inhabited by the same, self-serving political elite.

    At a time when the headcount at MoD’s defence equipment acquisition organisation at Abbey Wood, Bristol is being forcibly slashed as part of the 2015 Spending Review settlement with the Treasury, there exists an extremely high risk that departing procurement officials, including those who have not previously taken part in the assessment of invitation to tender responses, will be persuaded to pocket corresponding memory sticks (or CDs) and offer them in return for employment, to competitors of owners of these same CDs – thereby transferring innovative design solutions and Intellectual Property Rights which can then be used by unscrupulous recipients, to grab a larger share of the defence market.

    Such behaviour only reinforces the view that lower-level defence procurement officials have nothing to offer potential employers in the Private Sector (unlike the political elite), except someone else’s property! And when these people arrive on Contractors’ premises, they promptly become a burden on fellow co-workers and the payroll because they do not have the necessary skills (due to being selected for reasons other than merit) as task performers to add value to the business, only costs.

    What’s more, because many Defence Contractors do not have a ‘Code on Ethical Behaviour in Business’ in place, they will not only happily accept such proprietary information without any qualms, but also encourage its unauthorised removal from MoD Abbey Wood – yet they would not want their own CDs to fall into the hands of their Competitors.

    Such is their twisted sense of morality!
    @JagPatel3 on twitter

  12. “It’s probably no exaggeration to say the NHS saved my life last week.”
    Errrr, no. Medicine (possibly) saved your life. The NHS was merely the means of delivery. And not necessarily the best means of delivery.

    • Miles King says:

      welcome Andrew.

      I think I was right, it was the NHS. The NHS is the only provider of the type of health intervention I needed, there and then. Who can say whether in an alternative universe, in a UK with a US style healthcare system, I would have survived?

  13. Very sorry to hear of the struggle you have been through Miles and I hope you a make a full recovery soon. I’m glad that it hasn’t impacted on your ability to find the stories that slip through the news net and comment on them in a way that nobody else could. Your story doesn’t surprise me in the slightest re Paterson. Yet another tale of the political class profiteering off vested interest and pushing a personal agenda using ‘research’ that lacks impartial peer reviewed support. Get well soon.

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