Peter Rhodes on the return of traffic jams, troubling figures for the NHS and a great moment in journalism
Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.
On the road back to normality (which happened to be the A46 north of Coventry), I encountered my first traffic jam for more than three months. It was a classic of the genre with bored, nose-picking drivers moving at a snail's pace past thousands of cones and dozens of arrow signs, plus occasional yellow ones reading: “We are following the Government's advice to keep on working.” And in the finest tradition of highway maintenance, despite all the signs about roadworks, nobody was actually working.
There were other signs at the roadside. They said: “Leicester – essential traffic only.” Deeply sinister.
ITV has commissioned a three-part drama on the murder of Stephen Lawrence and his parents' struggle for justice. It is a saga that deserves re-telling, from the sheer, icy mindlessness of the murder to the “institutional racism” exposed within the police. At times you cannot believe that such things could happen in this country. And while politicians and lawyers played their part in getting justice, will this drama give enough weight to the extraordinary role played by the Daily Mail, the bible of Middle England? The Mail spared no effort and risked its own money on digging out the truth. Its campaign climaxed in 1997 with that astonishingly bold one-word headline above photos of the suspects: “Murderers.” The newspaper declared: “The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong let them sue us.” It was one of the 20th century's great moments in print journalism and I hope ITV gives credit where it is due.
If you believe the NHS is wonderful and all the Covid-19 deaths are the result of Government incompetence, you won't like this bit. Figures emerged this week showing big, unexplained differences in mortality rates between NHS hospital trusts in England. While the death rate in one London trust was just 12.5 per cent, a hospital trust in the South West lost 80 per cent of its patients. When all other factors are stripped out, the implication is that some hospitals and their medical and surgical teams are better than others. Or as one senior doctor put it, the figures “may mean that some hospitals needed to learn lessons from others.”
Some of us are not greatly surprised at these mortality figures. If you have listened closely enough during the pandemic, you'll have heard a few voices questioning the popular line that everything is the Government's fault. A couple of months ago a despairing Scottish council leader asked: “We have more people dying in hospital than elsewhere: are there questions about the district general hospital?” There are questions. And there must be answers.
My piece on the need for practical training rather than airy-fairy degree courses prompts one reader to write in support of the modern school-performance test, the Baccalaureate. He points out that not every child will be able to qualify as a doctor, teacher, lawyer or other professional but we will always need “blokes who can back a lorry out.”
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