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Health Improvements in the NHS

Lord Selsdon (Con): My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for introducing this debate. I suppose that I am the only person here who can declare to be an unqualified amateur, but the word “amateur” means someone who loves his subject. When I was brought up, I was surrounded by four doctors in various parts of the family. I took the view that I could never be ill, because you were not allowed to be ill at that time, and that one should get on with life, but[1] I learnt about the problem of the co-operation between the public sector, as it is called, and the private sector.

I go back to when I was quite a small chap in the 1950s. My father said, “You must learn to play golf. There’s some golf going on at the Liphook golf course”. I went down there, and there was a chap called Douglas Bader, who did not have any legs. Bobby Locke from South Africa was there, and I had never picked up a golf club at all, but Douglas was very kind to me—he showed me his legs. He took one off and waved it at me.

I forgot that partnership is what one looks at, and perhaps the greatest prosthetic partnership between medicine and commerce was Professor John Charnley back in the early 1980s. He was an orthopaedic surgeon who, together with Charles Thackray of Leeds, set up the first artificial hip replacement. In parallel, there was Uncle Archie, as I call him—Archie McIndoe, who had a very attractive wife. He was a New Zealander who came to London in 1930, could not get any work and so worked as a clinical assistant for plastic surgery at Barts. Then he was appointed as consultant to the RAF in plastic surgery, leading to the Blond MacIndoe Research Foundation at East Grinstead. As your Lordships will recall, the patients there were Hurricane and Spitfire pilots who were badly burnt. That was the start, a long time ago, of the co-operation in technology that led to the experience in skin grafts on patients who were known as “guinea pigs”. I believe that there was a smart club you could join if you had suffered, which was called the Guinea Pig Club.

I move forward now to Camp Bastion and the technology that has been developed over that period of time. There have been some very interesting developments. In the research world, we must accept that the Government and the NHS have to co-operate with the private sector. Out there, there is a private sector that is very willing to co-operate on all sorts of developments.

For many years I was a banker. Mainly because I had previously worked in a research company whose office was just above a pump in Broadwick Street that had polluted the whole of London, I got involved in water and sewage projects. In the context of hospital diseases, which were mentioned earlier, there was a company up in the north-east called Henry Cooke, which was on a river belonging to another company—I will not name it—which it did not really want. It made paper that was particularly suitable for the health service. It meant that you could put an instrument in a paper bag and then shove it in to be sterilised at a later date. It was steam-sterilisable paper, which was one form of technology. Over a long period there have been other developments in this field that make me think.[2]

For a while, through an accident of no reason at all with a client, I became a director of Terme di Porretta, the oldest spa company in the world. Ovid wrote of our springs, “From these springs cometh forth life”[3]. We had a problem in Bath: there was an amoeba in the water there, which meant that people could not bathe anymore. Needless to say, one word to the Italians and the whole team decided to come to London, explain that they had created the middle of Bath and put forward new proposals for drilling and things of that sort.

That led me to wonder about the impact of waterborne diseases—C. difficile and the others. I was director of a construction company. We built several hospitals. Suddenly, after having built one hospital and put in all the water systems so that people washed their hands, the NHS decided to change the rules and that you should use some form of chemicals or other things, so the water was not used. The water backed up, and we suddenly had one of the first examples of legionnaires’ disease. These are the sorts of problems that I have had in my life, but with waterborne diseases it becomes quite important.[4] Because of the sewage thing, I ended up in the sewage business, building sewers. I got gippy tummy in Cairo and we then built sewers there, but that is another long story.

The point that I am trying to make is that co-operation with the private sector is very willingly there. In the research field, when you look at the amount of drugs that we are developing, we are a pretty successful nation. I congratulate my noble friend on what he has done.

I will not move on to the worrying business of adult stem cells, except for a brief moment. I found to my surprise that I was involved in this field with a professor from Germany who had looked at the application of stem cells for heart treatment. That was a worry. While he was a German, the Swiss were involved and they needed the support of the Vatican. So after a meeting with the Pope, the Pope shook hands and said that autologous stem cells could effectively be used for the regeneration of hearts. In this area, you look at what happens when people go out to try to buy hearts for regeneration where adult stem cells of different sorts, whether they be autologous or allogeneic, can do an awful lot of work. This is a development area that is very important.

The point is that the private sector can work very closely with government. My favourite exercise of all was when I first met the Da Vinci machine. That is a machine that I brought into the Library and everyone had a look and said, “What does it do?”, and I said, “You’d better find out from Lord Kakkar”[5]. [Hansard]

[1] Hansard inserted this "but" between what had been two entirely distinct sentences, apparently in a valiant effort to trace a line of argument. That "but" is taking an awful lot of weight, though, and seems liable to snap at any moment.  Back

[2] Connoisseurs will treasure the fact that what he actually said here was "Over a long period there have been other developments in this field that I think make me think".  Back

[3] If he did, Lord Selsdon seems to have the only copy.  Back

[4] An intriguing implication from the noble Lord. Is he really blaming the NHS for introducing more effective methods of disease control rather than the company that installed a water system in a hospital that, without constant use, would back up, stagnate and breed disease?  Back

[5] This is intended as a passing nicety to Lord Kakkar, who had spoken immediately before him. however, it ends up as an unintentionally mystifying final flourish, as at this point Lord Selsdon is interrupted by a vote taking place in the House, and on returning he is persuaded that he has pretty much made the point he wanted to make and the debate moves on. Research reveals that not only (disappointingly) do the machines exist in real life but the noble Lord himself has referred to them, slightly more illuminatingly, once before:

Lord Selsdon: ... somehow the bureaucracy of our great organisation does not realise that the noble Lord, Lord Darzi [a heart surgeon], on his own with three people could probably do the same amount as 500 people. I talked to him also about some of the latest technology, including the da Vinci machines for elective surgery, whereby remotely you look to combine drugs and elective surgery without the need for hospitalisation. I am getting a bit carried away. [Hansard]  Back


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