Not for the first time, this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions featured tough debate on the ‘weekend effect’ in UK hospitals – a notion that more people die at the weekend due to poorer care. The idea stems from a study by the British Medical Journal last year, despite the author’s own claim that such a conclusion would be ‘rash and misleading’.
In debate, David Cameron asserted: ‘the true figures for excess deaths at the weekend are 11,000 not 6,000.’ Many members of parliament have called out these ‘true figures’ as misrepresentations which knowingly nurse a false image of the NHS.
Fact-checking website Full Fact has found no evidence to support the figure of 11,000 deaths which Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and PM Cameron are repeating in arguments.
There are some calls for David Cameron to apologise for this, but they have been drowned out by a different clamour. Cameron, following shortly after a Labour MP’s jibe about his mother (who has recently come out in opposition to some Conservative cuts) deflected parliamentary debate and national conversation away from the NHS. He said: ‘Well I think I know what my mother would say. I think she’d look across the dispatch box and she’d say “put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem.”’
Parliament is where a politician’s job ought to be most clear; their profession is to be accountable for their views, meaning that professionalism is to offer and answer issues of public importance with due seriousness.
It’s hard to know, when a politician chooses sound byte over argument, whether they do not have an answer they are willing to hold themselves to, or simply prioritise the seduction of point-scoring politics. That Corbyn was wearing a suit and tie when the joke was delivered had little effect on the gleeful Conservative response.
Perhaps the backbench heckle that Cameron should ask his mother was below the belt and the PM was right to address his immediate interests before supplying a response of national interest. Perhaps Corbyn should have done the same last week, cutting off his EU report as soon as it was interrupted by Tory MP Christopher Pincher’s shout of ‘who are you’, which the Conservative benches indulged in cackling at for the best part of a minute.
Regardless, Cameron has been successful and discussion has flared again surrounding the professionalism of Corbyn’s occasionally undone top button, his sometimes mismatched suit jacket and trousers. The flare serves well as an eclipse, and not just of NHS issues as their junior doctors endure damaging rota changes as result of Hunt’s policies and unfounded misinformation about the safety of their patients. It also lets Cameron dodge the double standard of professionalism in which a wonky tie wins more scandal than a bare-faced lie and the refusal to explain where it came from.
What do you think? Have your say in the comments below.