Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 6th November 2017

CAN it really be 10 years since businessman entrepreneur Sir Gerry Robinson decided to tackle the NHS for a fascinating television program?

Sir Gerry spent six months at Rotherham General Hospital — by no means a poor or failing one — exploring ways in which the NHS could operate more efficiently. He found practices that “defied belief” and tested his patience to the ultimate.

Six months, no extra money, but a belief that any organisation, big or small, could be made to run well. His prescription was a simple one, to recognise ideas and talent and help them to make things happen.

Sir Gerry wanted to see the NHS, the third biggest employer in the world, removed from politics, get rid of management consultants, improve falling morale and stop annoying people with things like car parking charges.

So much of what he said a decade ago applies today, but were any lessons learnt from his recommendations? Probably not. Would the NHS just go back to doing things the way they had always been done? Probably yes.

Ironically, 2007 saw Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt talking about the “best year ever” for the NHS when patients and staff must have thought she was living on a different planet. Surgeries delayed, budget problems, 37,000 jobs in jeopardy, a drastic shortage of doctors and nurses.

Then there was a growing sense that the NHS was beyond help and no political party was willing to introduce reforms needed to make it work. Are we talking 2007 or 2017, because there are echoes of nothing’s changed, other than the crisis has deepened, in the time since Sir Gerry Robinson’s revealing program? Whichever political party is in charge, the words sound much the same.

Sir Gerry concluded that management were blocking the use of operating theatres at weekends, leaving millions of pounds of equipment lying idle. Last week a report said that if operations were more efficiently organised, another 280,000 procedures could be performed each year. See, nothing changes quickly in the NHS.

I suppose, another 10 years down the line, the same issues and the same problems will be afflicting the NHS, only worse unless it can be dragged out of the political mire and away from out of touch managers.

At least Gerry detected a pulse, albeit a faint one. And he left his stint at the hospital a firm believer in the NHS.

THE “FORGOTTEN STORY”

UNLESS you are a veteran football fan, a Rotarian or perhaps had someone who was a victim in your own circle of family and friends — a likely occurrence back then in the 1940s and 50s — the name of Jeff Hall may mean little to you.

Jeff Hall made 227 appearances for his club, Birmingham City, and played 17 times for England. But, in March, 1959, just hours after playing in a 1-1 draw against Portsmouth, he became unwell and was taken to hospital where polio was diagnosed.

Hall’s battle with the disease ended tragically a fortnight later, but it was his death that raised awareness of the new Salk vaccine and, within days, prompted millions to attend clinics and sessions set up in sports grounds, leisure centres and dance halls.

I have cause to remember polio because one of my cousins caught it, spent weeks in an “iron lung” and survived, but with a withered arm. Polio didn’t quite have the fear factor of heart disease and cancer, but it attacked healthy, young bodies, and in the summer months parents grew anxious to avoid public places like swimming pools where it was thought it was spread.

I was just 11 when Jeff Hall died, but I remember the impact his passing had. Response to the vaccine had previously been slow, but now youngsters on the terraces and in the Mecca dance halls knew that if polio could strike a healthy sportsman, it could strike them, too.

We haven’t had a case in England and Wales since 1984 and polio could soon be eradicated worldwide. But, in 1955, the worst year on record, 3,712 cases of paralytic poliomyelitis were recorded.

This may be the “forgotten story” of footballer Jeff Hall, but back then, in the 50s, it was like one of today’s top stars of the Premier League contracting a fatal illness. There wasn’t the publicity because few of us had television, but the Daily Express wrote: “In the past 10 years over 3,000 people have died of polio and it took the death of one footballer to get typists and secretaries, clerks, schoolkids and the rock ‘n’ roll generation pouring into clinics.”

Hall’s widow, Dawn, campaigned for vaccinations until her death last year, but, of course, polio still affects young children and the most vulnerable in remote and hostile parts of the world, where organisations like Rotary International have raised millions of pounds in supporting health workers. The latest case, on 21st August in Pakistan, could be the last, a remarkable testimony to their efforts.

Amid the publicity last week for World Polio Awareness Day, I confess I didn’t see or read anything about Jeff Hall and his albeit unwitting contribution to the fight against polio. The forgotten story it may be. But Hall, a humble, dedicated professional, showed the power of sport and celebrity, even in the 1950s when footballers weren’t the remote, wealthy and arrogant figures so often seen nowadays. His death was to save countless lives.

YOU AGAIN, BISHOP?

WHEN last I saw Roger Delves-Broughton he was dressed as a bishop. Quite legitimate because he was performing in character in Philip King’s farce See How They Run on stage at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake. One of those trouser-dropping, dashing in and out and falling down farces with a least three vicars and a bishop.

That was four years ago when he was part of the summer season acting company at the lakeside theatre. Then on Friday up pops Delves-Broughton in the BBC’s Porridge revival — as a bishop, naturally.

Roger has risen in the ranks of the clergy during his acting career. He formerly played a vicar in Coronation Street. On Friday he was visiting HM Slade Prison, where the grandson of the original Fletch, so wonderfully characterised by the late Ronnie Barker, is serving a five-year stretch for computer hacking.

The versatile Delves-Broughton — he used to live on a boat at Derwentwater while doing his stint at the local theatre — seems to be one of those actors who are simply tailor-made for religious roles. However, his acting career has not been all gas and gaiters. He’s been on TV as a farmer, postman, French official and in many other guises, and he’s one of those valuable actors to companies like Theatre by the Lake in turning his hand to several vastly different parts all in one season.

In reviving Porridge, with its original script writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, the BBC must be aiming at a double audience whammy. Those of us who fondly remember the original which ran for three series plus Christmas specials, after its debut on our screens in 1974, and a whole different generation of viewing public.

As one of the former category, I fear the new Porridge doesn’t satisfy the appetite. Once you’ve seen Ronnie Barker’s Fletch anything that follows is bound to be disappointing. It was one of the BBC’s great all-time sitcoms. Warmed up porridge? Yuk. Sorry, Barker’s Fletcher was a one-off. I’d prefer it if they’d left it that way — even if it was good to see a familiar man of the cloth again.

NO, MINISTER

LISTENING to Radio 4’s 60th anniversary Today program on Saturday, I heard Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s pathetic joke comparing a visit to movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom to being grilled by John Humphrys.

Was I shocked? No. Was I offended? No. Was I surprised by Gove’s ill-judged attempt at humorously buttering up Humphrys’s interviewing skills? Yes. It didn’t sound right.

But put it this way, I’m sick and tired of this newly censorious, easily offended, high moral ground society that’s led by social media outrage. Gove’s attempted wit was abject. But because I’m not fomenting with disgust and rage does not mean I support the repugnant actions of Weinstein.

What I will say about Gove is that Michael McIntyre, Jon Richardson and Sarah Millican need not fear their careers are under threat from a politician who came across not as a threat to womankind, but as a right twerp.