Monday, April 12, 2010

Fear and Dishonesty Emerge As Labour's Main Tactics

We have been warned that this General Election campaign could turn nasty and at the end of the first week it has. The Times reports that the Labour party has targeted 250,000 women with leaflets suggesting that treatment for breast cancer will be inferior under a Conservative government. As if that is not appalling enough there is a question around exactly how these tawdry leaflets were distributed. And there have been widespread calls from leaflet recepients, the Tories, Lib Dems and SNP for Labour to apologise.

What we need to know is, who authorised this campaign? Was it Andy Burnham the Health Secretary who today defended the leadlets and did Gordon Brown know about it?

Even if Labour didn't illegally use private medical data to select their victims audience, as they claim, Labour sources confirm to The Times that they did use "socio-demographic research". They also have access to the Mosaic database from Experian, which includes "anonymised hospital statistics, including postcodes and the diagnoses of patients, to identify the likely addresses of those with particular illnesses". Along with all this, they used Tangent Communications to distribute the leaflets. Tangent are said to specialise in “highly targeted marketing”. Tangent Communications clients include the Department of Health and Cancer Research UK.

Of course, even if you believe that they didn't target sufferers of, and those vulnerable to cancer directly, the prevalence of the disease means there are few people who have not been affected by it in one way of another. Labour knows the fear it strikes into the hearts of millions and this is what they seek to exploit.

Labour's objective is to focus on the Conservatives intention to drop micro management by government ministers using politically motivated targets. They paint this as some kind of lessening of a commitment to quality healthcare that would adversely affect cancer treatment. In order to maintain that impression they need to ignore that fact that the Tories intend to replace these targets with a system that judges health care providers by far more relevant, measures focussed on actual outcomes. This makes more sense to me. I don't care how long whatever phase of my treatment, a government minister decides is important, takes if I know that the overall care I will receive maximises my chance of survival with as little adverse impact to my quality of life as possible.

Far from reducing information available to patients about health care the Tories pledge to increase it, and that pledge it pretty much central to their vision of moving to a more patient focused system where we'd have a choice where we go for treatment. If you want more detail on their plans, the Conservatives will be publishing their Manifesto on Tuesday. However, the Draft Manifesto they published earlier in the year sets out their plans as well. I suggest skipping the blurb at the start and jumping straight to page 8.

Now, you may not agree with this approach. Fair enough, that's a matter of opinion. The best way to deliver health care is a big question and there will be many different theories and proposals. But to suggest that your political opponents are setting out to deliberately damage health care is wrong and to target the fears of women about breast cancer is utterly contemptible.

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