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Liam Fox, shadow health secretary
Liam Fox, shadow health secretary
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: LIAM FOX MP Shadow Health Secretary

FEBRUARY 17TH, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: News there of the BBC's NHS day on Wednesday. Well the Conservative Opposition has been mounting a steady campaign criticising the Government's health policy. But can they convince voters that they'd do any better? I'm joined now by the Shadow Health Secretary, himself, Liam Fox. Good morning Liam.

LIAM FOX: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: Nice to have you with us.

LIAM FOX: Thank you.

DAVID FROST: On the MMR thing, which still ticks on, what should the Government be doing this week? Do you still think they should offer single jabs?

LIAM FOX: I think that the first thing they have to do - which is in fact the question asked - is that they should be trying to reassure parents still that MMR is the safest and best way of protecting the children. Not only against -

DAVID FROST: Do you think that?

LIAM FOX: Yes I do. Not only against measles but mumps and rubella as well - which seems to be forgotten in the debate. But clearly in some parts of the country the rates have fallen very low, in some parts of London they're down to 65 per cent, and I think the Government have to ask themselves if parents have made a conscious decision not to have MMR, do they simply say you can have nothing at all or should they make an alternative available - even if it's in the short term.

DAVID FROST: So you think they should do that, or not?

LIAM FOX: I think they should, at least in the short term, give a choice to parents, until such times as they're able to reassure them that MMR is safe. I think this is a campaign that should have been started a couple of years ago, as you know we went to the Government and said rates are falling, why don't we do something together to try to reassure the public, but we didn't get very much cooperation.

DAVID FROST: The other, the other Liam was here last week, of course, Liam Donaldson, and he said the problem with offering single jabs is six visits to the doctor, people won't complete the course and therefore more people will be in danger and if there is more danger then those children, babies, who are under the age of injection would also be exposed to that. That it added to the dangers.

LIAM FOX: That is right, because that's why MMR was brought in, it was to raise the level of coverage, but if parents refuse to have MMR it makes sense to me to offer a choice so that children are able to be protected. Obviously single jabs, with the problems that you mention, are less effective than MMR, but they're more effective than nothing.

DAVID FROST: And in fact the other thing that when one sees someone like Liam Donaldson speaking so articulately about all of this and with the doubts people have about politicians these days, somebody said that maybe the solution to BSE, foot and mouth, MMR - one of yours, two of theirs - is, is in fact to get rid of the politicians, to get them out of the way and let the Liam Donaldsons of this world deal with it, direct to the public.

LIAM FOX: Our politicians are responsible for the policies, they're responsible for delivering health care and for delivering safe food to the public, making sure the public are protected and they're the regulators, so it's only right that they should carry the can at the end of the day. But I think it does re-emphasise that there is a failing to get scientific messages over to the public, whether it's in medicine or other branches of science, and there's a scepticism amongst the public which I think has never been there about science before.

DAVID FROST: No. Very different about science. Talking of rows and worries, NHS Direct came and that was blamed for one tragedy this week, but that, that's not typical is it, that's been a good innovation hasn't it?

LIAM FOX: I think NHS Direct has always had the potential to be very helpful. Patients like it. Whether it's a cost effective way of delivering better health care is another question and I think that's something that has to be constantly kept under review - is that the best way of using a limited budget in terms of delivering people with better quality health care? I think that, that remains to be seen. But certainly it's popular with patients and it's certainly not something that anyone who was sensible would dismiss out of hand.

DAVID FROST: You'd keep it?

LIAM FOX: I think that my, my initial view would be that it needs to be kept, whether it can be improved is quite another question. I think it's something that we need to constantly review if we're being sensible.

DAVID FROST: Now the problem is, of course, that more and more people say, although they're talking critically about the NHS and so on, but these polls seem to show they still blame the faults of the NHS, or the problems of the NHS, more on the previous Conservative government than on Labour. Now how can you - talking about educating the public - how can you get round that?

LIAM FOX: I've always believed that the reason that we were so distrusted, as it was, or at the time on the NHS, was a factor of how long we'd been in office and that they system was basically not working very well. And I think that the longer Labour have been in office, the less they're trusted in handling it, because the system has the same basic flaws which the Government not only hasn't put right but in fact are making worse. And this week we just saw for the first time in the NHS that we now have more managers than we have beds in the NHS, which I think will shock people in Britain, especially since the Government came to office promising to cut bureaucracy and in fact it's gone up. And this is one of the essential problems that it has. Governments of both parties have tried to run the NHS, which employs over a million people, from behind the minister's desk in Whitehall - that can never be successful. And until we can actually decentralise it and give more power to the patients and more choice to the patients, then I don't think the public will be satisfied with whatever party is running the NHS.

DAVID FROST: And what about the, the situation of the - obviously you are in favour of people coming out with private health insurance and the more the better and the more the merrier in that sense, to assist the current financing situation - in a perfect world Liam, how many of the population would you like to see having private medical insurance? Fifty per cent?

LIAM FOX: Well, in your most charming way David, you're trying to trick me into giving you a, an advance notice of what we're thinking in our policy review. What I think that we have to set as our broad objective is can we get more money into health care, and it seems inconceivable that any one year we will not have to spend more than the year before. We'll always have to spend more money on health. How can we get more money? Other countries in Europe do it by a mixture of public provision and encouraging people to spend more of their own money. That has led, over a long period of time, to far better cure and survival rates for cancer, for heart disease, than we have in Britain and ultimately we have to not worry so much about the system as do we actually give people in Britain the health care we deserve, and that's what I want to see.

DAVID FROST: And do you think the situation's right where, Iain picked on the case of Rose Addis and so on, picking out individual cases like that, which there'll always be I guess, somewhere in the system, however perfect. Do you think that's a fair tactic?

LIAM FOX: I think it's fair if it fits two criteria. The first is, did the patient want the case to be raised? Is it something that the family wanted to see and did they feel that they had a legitimate means of redress otherwise. The second thing is, does it have resonance? Is it a single mistake which it would be unfair to portray as something happening generally, or is it symptomatic of a wider problem? And I think the reason that the Rose Addis case had such resonance with the public is that people looked at that case and said well actually something similar happened to my granny, something similar happened to my next door neighbour. That is why, I think, that the Government was so worried about the case and why they tried so hard to come down on those who were pushing the story.

DAVID FROST: I'm sure you'll remember the words of your maiden speech where you said that the Labour opposition had resorted to the lowest form of political debate by dredging up personal cases of misery to try to find the one case that has gone badly in the NHS and overlooking all the reforms and successes that we have had.

LIAM FOX: I think that's exactly my point. If you drag up a case which is not typical of a trend, I think that that is very different from showing an example of what is a systematic failure. And we know from the Audit Commission that patients are waiting longer in Accident and Emergency than they were when we were in office, and we know that patients are waiting longer to be admitted to the wards from Accident and Emergency than when we were in office. Things are actually getting worse. It's quite legitimate to point that out to the public - although they know it already.

DAVID FROST: Is it sacred - one last question - is it absolutely sacred that under the Tories it will still be free at the point of delivery, or will you have to change that?

LIAM FOX: I think health care has to be free at the point of delivery if we are to stop barriers to access to care. As somebody who has worked in the inner city as well as some of the more affluent parts, as a doctor, I think you'll have to look at whether bringing in any barriers to care would actually stop those who require health from doing it. But we're looking at the experience of other European countries, we've travelled extensively. They're got a very different way of providing care but they also have many in ways better outcomes in terms of cure and survival rates. That's really what matters at the end and, as I said, we mustn't be obsessed with the system, we must be obsessed with the patient and the quality of the care that they get.

DAVID FROST: Liam, thank you very much for being with us today.

LIAM FOX: Thank you David.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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