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'We don’t need time travel to know that PFI was unwise'


I am wondering if I should be worried about neutrinos.

Neutrinos apparently are ghostly subatomic particles. I didn’t know there were such things until last week. I knew there were nachos and chinos and had safely navigated my way past both - but neutrinos?

Anyway, they exist and may be travelling faster than the speed of light. If that is the case, the universe as we understand it has stopped making sense. I hate it when that happens.

Of course, chances are the scientists have made an error. Why the attention-seeking boffins are telling us about results that may not be accurate, we don’t know. However, if it was my job to look at things you can’t see doing things that can’t be done all day I’d probably want to break things up a little now and again with the odd unbelievable claim. Although I’d go with “I can lick my own elbow” before “I’ve found something moving faster than the speed of light”.

Anyway, the idea of having something moving faster than the universe’s previously known speed limit apparently opens up the possibility of time travel. If I could type as fast as a neutrino moves, I would know what I am talking about before I start talking about it. Or you could go forward in time 20 years to see if you will have a pension.

Or we could all go back to 1997 and not buy into the PFI hospital-building programme, secure in the knowledge that it would be an unhelpful economic burden for years and years to come.

Except we all knew that PFI, under the auspices of a partnership between the private sector and public services, would create a crippling unending debt for much of the NHS. We knew it was the political equivalent of phoning up one of those loan shark companies and asking for some cash and not minding when they say: “Our interest rate is 1,765%. Just sign here.” We don’t need time travel or the benefit of hindsight to know PFI was unwise.

Indeed, perhaps it reminds us that the effectiveness of a partnership depends in part on its moral intent and in part on the power balance between the partners. Partnerships work best between equals - failing that, they need to be based on a commonality of either purpose or intent. Failing that, some mutual respect might be good. Without those, it is not a partnership but a simple contract. This is not in itself a bad thing but it is something less than a partnership.

I am a big fan of partnership. Against a backdrop of economic threat, professional assault, clinical disinvestment and educational dismay, I wonder if building partnerships around shared moral aims rather than a potential for profit might be the way forward.

Perhaps there could be a partnership between nurses and doctors that extends beyond practice into the political arena. Or a partnership between educationalists and clinicians that transcends the limits and demands of the Nursing and Midwifery Council to form progressive and confident nurse education? Or one between unions and professional organisations that sets aside political point-scoring and instead defends the things that matter most to nurses and their patients.

Because it seems to me that the politics of cuts forces people to defend themselves, their wards, their hospitals, their profession; it can make us insular so divide groups with shared interests. We don’t need economic partnerships but moral ones. That shouldn’t be beyond us, should it? If this neutrinos story is true, then surely everything is possible.

Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer and author of Gabriel’s Angel.

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Readers' comments (6)

  • tinkerbell

    think you are summing it all up Mark. Ethics, morals -v- big bucks and profit. Can the balance survive where profit comes first and human life comes second. Who's gonna win at the end of the day and who's gonna get bumped off along the way? Won't change the speed of those flighty little neutrinos one bit but will effect us all on a much deeper level as a caring, moral society. Once big business has its way corruption will surely follow. Anyone know the price of a human organ nowadays that can be sold on the blackmarket? Watch the film 'Inhale' to see how low we can go once we sell our morals down the swanee and make money our god. Deeply disturbing & frightening because apparently true. Will we reach a point where the rot has set in so insidiously that we also think that there is nothing wrong with what we are doing and we can put a price on someones life? Sadly we may be on the brink where its everyman for himself and may not find our way back to altruism.

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  • Absolutely agree. If it wasn't so serious and devastating, I'd say PFI was one huge practical joke, as no sane person would see it as practical!!

    I'd like to see all that moral partnership happen too Mark, unfortunately I don't ever think it will.

    Tink, I think the NHS and those that run it are already at that point. That s why clinical staff such as ourselves, who still care and primarily work through altruism, are fighting a losing battle.

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  • I find it interesting that business is protrayed as the villain in the PFI scenario. A close relative of mine was fairly high up on the business side when PFI was at it's heights and he and his co-workers genuinely saw it as a win win situation for business and healthcare (the feeling being that they were doing some social as well as economic good and pride being derived therefrom).

    We fast-forward to today and the PFI situation seems to have crashed and burned. Is business responsible, probably partially but it wasnt some evil conspiracy from the start. is the NHS to blame for entering into contracts it couldn't service and by increasing the spend by making adjustments after building began? At least partially. Is the government to blame by encouraging all parties to engage in the schemes and the slashing the budgets of the people who were left with the bills? At least partially.

    Who is most to blame? I don't know but to single out one party as guilty helps to obscure the lessons that they all should be learning for the future.

    As an aside the Neutrino scientists published their data because they thought they'd probably done something wrong and wanted as many other scientists to check it as possible. The news services were the ones that ran away with the claims.

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  • It's probably still on the BBC radio 4 podcast!

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  • John, noone said it was an evil conspiracy, just a stupid and insane idea. It was a win win situation, for the businesses, the NHS was always going to get screwed over from the start!

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  • tinkerbell

    big business took the government to the cleaners. Big business knew what it was doing when they made the deal, the government sadly didn't.There was no conspiracy involved only idiocy.

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