Sunday, August 22, 1999 Published at 18:20 GMT 19:20 UK
Porter Portillo praises NHS
Former MP says he was surprised by the "jolliness" of the hospital
Former cabinet minister Michael Portillo has heaped praise on National Health Service staff, after working at a London hospital as an unpaid porter.
Mr Portillo writes in The Mail on Sunday about caring for the living and the dead in an attempt to see the NHS in action.
But a government minister has dismissed the three-day stint as a "stunt".
Cabinet Office Minister Ian McCartney said the former defence secretary was plotting a return to Parliament to oust Conservative leader William Hague.
The four-page article includes pictures of Mr Portillo, who lost his seat in the 1997 general election, delivering oxygen to a ward and chatting to maternity staff.
"I am working as a porter at St Thomas's Hospital, London, here to look at the National Health Service, from a new angle: from the porters' lodge rather than the Cabinet Room," Mr Portillo wrote.
As he catalogues daily difficulties faced by staff - including one incident when a mentally ill patient pulls out a knife - Mr Portillo asks how staff can continue going to work "knowing that [they] are going to be sworn at, threatened, maybe even assaulted by the people [they] are trying to help".
"The jolliness of the hospital takes me by surprise," Mr Portillo writes.
"I'd heard so much about the low morale in the Health Service that I had imagined they'd all go round saying how depressed they were."
Mr Portillo also backed calls for more spending on the NHS and records staff complaints over one of the Tories' key policies to contract out NHS services.
But Mr McCartney accused the former MP of carrying out a "transparent stunt" to coincide with the dubbing of Mr Hague as a "nerd" by focus groups.
"William Hague should now realise that Michael Portillo's plot to return to Parliament and snatch the leadership is now in top gear," said Mr McCartney.
In March Mr Portillo launched an attack on his party for alienating entire professions such as teachers and health workers.