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Where did we lose the plot?

It’s been quite a surreal couple of days back home – funny if it wasn’t so sad.

It all began yesterday with the arrest of nine people in Leicester on suspicion of supporting or recruiting for Al Qaeda. It was the major lead in all the news bulletins. Hordes of policemen, those lengths of steel drainpipe fitted with welded handles which they use to break doors down, cries of “Police – open up!” and the shattering of wood and glass as the door goes in. Then distant and furtive scenes of officers bagging up everything that moves to take away for examination. Most of the action was over before the press were allowed near in any numbers, but then our ever resourceful TV cameramen can use their initiative when in a tight spot. Without a suspect in sight they turned their lenses on the police until they too shyly retired behind fences and doors. Undaunted, they turned to speeding vehicles with blue lights and sirens. And just at the right moment one turned up speeding handily past a running video camera. It had it all, blue lights, headlights, sirens and speed to make the drama complete. The camera panned perfectly as the white van dashed past and slewed to a halt on the pavement. Only then did we see the legend on the back – “Traffic Warden”.

Today has been even more surreal, but there’s nothing funny here. The Independent newspaper reported this morning that 20,000 people die each year in NHS hospitals from bacterial infections caused by super bugs that are almost immune to all known antibiotics. Well that might be the cause of death as a coroner sees it, but every housewife and retired old-fashioned Matron knows better. They died because our hospitals are just plain dirty. In the orgy of cost cutting and “value for money” drives of the 1980s and 1990s the first and easiest target were the cleaning staff. Blood and urine now lie dried on hospital floors for months – the subject of demarcation disputes between underpaid cleaners and hard pressed nurses.

And tonight’s lead news is that the first nine patients from the British NHS have been taken to Lille in France for their surgery. Each will be given a tastefully furnished private room with all mod cons – but my eyes were looking elsewhere. It was clean – spotlessly so! And the food? Unbelievable for anyone who has been served the low budget swill that now passes for food in the NHS. Green baby leaf salads, smoked salmon, red wine – the stuff that in NHS hospitals only the directors see at their board meetings. The lucky nine will only be the vanguard of thousands as the Government attempts to buy its way out of ever-expanding waiting lists. In France it is considered excessive to wait a month for any operation you need – many of the nine had waited 18 months.

So what’s my point? We have become a nation obsessed with doing everything at the lowest possible cost, even when 20,000 people each year die as a result. If I could wish something for my country it would be this: Let us rediscover the art of doing something well as our goal instead of wasting our people and our talents doing it on the cheap.

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