Thursday, 7 June 2007

Health Minister denies NHS anti smoker 'witch hunt'

Plans to get smokers to quit before being given surgery are not a form of "health fascism", argued Health Minister Lord Hunt, after he was urged to step in and overrule plans by local NHS trusts, which peers feel look like part of an anti-smoking "witch-hunt".

Yesterday, Conservative Lord Naseby raised the matter of an NHS primary Care Trust wanting smokers to give up, before having surgery, as managers felt it might improve recovery time. He pointed out that it was one example, of several similar proposals, for smokers, as well as those which targeted obese people.

He observed "there are all sorts of activities which, if stopped, would save the NHS money and ensure that people got better treatment."

Independent Labour peer Lord Stoddart pointed out that smokers paid much more in additional taxation than non smokers when they bought tobacco products and were "entitled to at least the same treatment as others".

He demanded to know by what right the "twenty five percent of adults who smoke - and the millions who are technically obese - all of them have paid their taxes and national insurance - are to be denied certain NHS surgery".

Lord Tebbit enquired how Lord Hunt would feel if similar rules were being applied to people, for instance whose sexual habits, "make them vulnerable to particularly unpleasant sexually transmitted diseases".

Lord Hunt avoided the question, blustering that it was "quite ridiculous" and in any case "This is a completely different issue"

Lord Stoddart asked Lord Hunt to use the NHS Acts to overrule the "discriminatory action". Adding, "There is an impression that there is a witch-hunt against smokers in particular.".

Lord Hunt argued that it was a clinical judgement, in the patients' interests and did not amount to a ban on smokers. He indicated that it had not been drawn up by the government but by Doctors and in any case it had not yet been approved.

He went on that it could mean fewer heart and lung complications, faster wound healing, faster bone fusion and shorter stays in hospital and said "This is not health fascism, it's not about discrimination against smokers, this is about what's best in the interest of the patient in terms of clinical judgement, and that is how it should remain."

No wonder the Government would like to emasculate the House of Lords, a difficult lot who tend to say “Now hang on a minute…” at inconvenient moments.

Now, since the subject of ‘health fascism’ came, up an observer might think that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck….

As for the “it hasn’t been approved yet” argument! Yet is the operative word and they were trying to ensure the proposals never were. We can be sure they will come up again – and again – and again…