Thursday 28 April 2011

Where on earth have you been?

Regular readers of this blog, if there are any, may have discerned a slight slackening of effort on my part over the past few months. No posts since February.

This is of course shocking, and my only excuse is ill-health. I have been suffering from flu which turned into turbo-charged eczema, no doubt thanks to the stresses of the coalition (yes, I know, I flatter myself).

Still, I am feeling better now and really must put in a bit of effort. The reason I feel better is two weeks in the extraordinary village of Avène in the Haut-Languedoc region of France. There is not much happening economically speaking in the area, except for the cosmetics factory of Avène and the thermal spa with an international reputation for curing eczema.  But what an amazing and effective place it is.

The French have a tradition of spa cures which we have lost in the UK, but there are people suffering from skin disorders there – and specialist doctors – from all over the world. Yet Brits are a rarity; where you do see them, it is usually children suffering from shocking eczema who have had to fight their way out of the British NHS.

I put this brutally because, for all its benefits, the NHS tends to retain a blindness about chronic health problems, preferring to maintain people in ill-health for the rest of their lives, rather than actively seeking out some more permanent solution.

This is partly because permanent solutions often require social networks, and – with the exceptions of the thriving time banks in surgeries – the NHS regards this as beyond them. It can also be because of professional disdain for foreign or bizarre treatments like Avène, despite the weight of research and proven results they have managed to garner over the years.

I heard distant rumours of wars while I was there, political battles over the future of the NHS, which made little or no mention of the urgent problems that the current NHS model faces. And I thought: why are Lib Dems being so defensive, clinging to the old, rather than carving out their own practical and humane solutions for the future?

This is not to suggest that the Lib Dems are wrong to demand changes and safeguards in the plan for GP commissioning.  It is that no political party with ambition should forfeit the right to a positive vision of the future, and I can't help feeling that - for all the re-statements of 'principles' and the bleeding obvious - there is still no equivalent Liberal vision for healthcare.