Who is advising Parliament?

In anticipation of the white paper that will propose handing commissioning power to GPs it’s worth considering who is advising parliament.

The Health Committee is “appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department of Health and its associated bodies”. You would be absolutely right in thinking that a doctor on the committee would be a great asset, essential even and yet if you look at the political interests of the Chairs of different Commons Select Committees a lack of specialist knowledge or political interest would appear to be the single unifying qualification.

The new Chair of the Health Committee is Stephen Dorrell who true to committee form, lists only economics and foreign affairs as his political interests, in spite of being Conservative Health secretary 1995-1997. By contrast, the Chair of the Education Committe, Graham Stuart lists “Older people, mental health, welfare… community hospitals.. and education” among his political interests. Nowhere on the parliamentary website is there any evidence of any committee Chairs with actual experience of working in the fields they are reporting on.

Apart from expertise, independence of thought (in contrast to party political line towing) is a virtue we would wish from the Chair of a cross party committee, but obviously this rarely happens. The previous Chair of the Health Committee was a retired consultant rheumatologist and an independent MP, Dr Richard Taylor; an excellent Committee Chair who I had the privilage of seeing in action at the house of Commons last year, and who oversaw the last highly critical report about commissioning which is essential reading.

All of this pales into insignificance with the news that Conservative MP David Tredinnick is on the health select committee. The link takes you to the wonderful Badscience website. Having David Tredinnick on the health committee is akin to having a creationist on the science and technology committee, or inviting the BNP onto the race relations committee.

Is there any hope left for democracy?

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