When a bedpan drops…

AS Tom Foot reports in this week’s New Journal, UCL provost Malcolm Grant had a testing session with a cross-party parliamentary health committee last week – as he tried to convince MPs he really was the best person for the job chairing the new NHS Commissioning Board.

The transcript shows some confusion as to where Nye Bevan’s famous bedpan dropped:

Professor Grant: That is the Commissioning Board. As I see it-and, please, I am in early days yet-it is going to be an immensely active process of consultation and discussion over the coming 12 months, up to September next year and then through to the formal process of authorisation, which goes from September through to the following April. We will all be struggling to get away from the old Nye Bevan aphorism that if a bed pan drops in St Thomas’ Hospital it reverberates down the corridors of Whitehall.

Grahame Morris: It is Tredegar actually.

Professor Grant: Thank you, but it is not the way for the future and it never has, realistically, been the way for the past. People who spend the money have to take the responsibility.

We thought everybody knew the Tredegar quote. It often pops up in these parliamentary transcripts – it came up four years ago in another Health Committee session when Alan Johnson, then the Health Secretary was asked whether the line from Bevan, the founder of the NHS, was still relevant. The bedpan drops are not as prevalent, it turns out, as they used to be.

Chairman: On that point, the founding father of the National Health Service, Nye Bevan, 60 years ago allegedly said that, if a bedpan is dropped on a ward in Tredegar, the noise of it should be heard in Westminster. Do you agree with that at the beginning of the 21st century?

Alan Johnson: I do not know whether bedpans are as prevalent now as they were back then. No, I do not agree with that because, if a bedpan is dropped on a ward in Tredegar, then the local trust and the strategic health authority should be knowing that there is a problem with dropped bedpans. I think the whole point, and this is David Nicholson’s point, and David cannot be here today because he is with Lord Darzi, but his constant message in the nine months he has been in office has been to the Health Service to look out to their patients, not up towards Whitehall. I think part of that bedpan-dropping in Tredegar is a kind of cultural thing, and I am not blaming anyone in the NHS for this, this is the way the system is run, that they are always looking up for the next directive that is coming down from Whitehall which is why I think probably, going back to the question about a new constitution, you could enshrine that probably as something that has changed over the last 60 years.

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