Friday, 5 February 2010

In The Corridors Of Power - Well Almost

I really didn't want to get out of bed yesterday, but I had said that I would attend the roundtable discussions, so I felt that I had to go. And I needed to make sure that patients were well represented. I know that technically we are all patients, but the other attendees were GPs and top-level executives from computer software firms and they really weren't looking at it from the patient's point of view. Anyway, I managed to get myself going and set off for the centre of London. I'm quite lucky because a bus that runs from the bus stop just a couple of minutes walk from home goes to where I needed to get to. This may sound logical, but sometimes it can take several buses to get to somewhere that is a much shorter distance away. Having got on the bus I then had to decide where to get off. I could either get off at Waterloo and walk from the station towards the London Eye and then across Westminster Bridge or get off in The Strand and walk down Whitehall. As it was my intention to have lunch out I decided to take latter option as I knew that I would have a better choice of eating places.

Having eaten my lunch, I then set out for a leisurely walk to Trafalgar Square and then down Whitehall. Driving in London is not something for the faint-hearted or those with high blood pressure and Trafalgar Square is definitely a place to avoid at the best of times but yesterday it was at a standstill as I approached it. Traffic was queuing in all directions and nothing was moving. There had to be a reason for this and as I crossed over Northumberland Avenue to turn down Whitehall I could see what the problem was. There were dozens of motorcyclists protesting about something and they had brought the traffic to a halt. Somewhat obviously it was attracting a lot of attention from people walking in the area but I had seen it all before and I had an appointment to keep so I just walked down Whitehall towards the Houses of Parliament and my first encounter with the corridors of power.

I know that I have written about my participation in these discussions several times in this blog and although I said I was going to the House of Commons, the meeting was actually being held in Portcullis House which is actually situated across the road from the Houses of Parliament but is part of the Parliamentary Estate. It stands to reason that there are just not enough meeting rooms in the House of Commons itself so this building helps to satisfy that need. It is quite an impressive building with a huge atrium and a large number of meeting rooms. There are television screens located in various places and in each of the meeting rooms there are two small monitors on the wall; one shows what is being debated in the House of Commons and the other what is being debated in the House of Lords. They don't show what is going on but they do tell you the subject of the debate, who is speaking, the time and the time that the speaker began speaking. And how do you work out which is which? They're colour-coded, of course.

The roundtable discussions were timetabled to begin at 2 o'clock, and somewhat unusually for such occasions, all the participants were seated and ready for action before that time so we began a couple of minutes early. The discussions were being held under the Chatham House Rule, which allows me to give you some idea of what we discussed but not say who said what.

At least five of the people around the table spent some of their working week as a GP and it was interesting to note that all of them bar one were not particularly happy at the idea of patients having access to their medical records when the discussions started. Fortunately they had changed their points of view by the end of the discussions, which is just as well because patients have a right to see their medical records under the Data Protection Act. There were significant discussions about how patients could access their data and the consensus was that it was best that as much information as possible should reside with the GP record. this would mean that patients only had to search one place to get the information and only have one set of passwords to remember. From experience I can say that this suits me very well although I believe that letters from some hospital consultations could probably do with containing a little more information about what has been carried out and full results of any tests conducted.

About halfway through the discussions the Shadow Health Secretary Stephen O'Brien, the person who had invited us all to attend, came to join us after having been in the House. He explained that what he wanted was for us to provide him with ideas and opinions on the subject so that it could be used to help to guide Conservative Party policy in the short and long term.

The discussions were extended by half an hour because we were covering so much ground and coming up with a lot of useful information, but eventually we finished and had probably provided a lot of food for thought. We were thanked cordially for taking part and were promised that the minutes that had been taken during the discussions would be passed on to us as well as to Stephen O'Brien. Then we all parted and went our separate ways.

Okay, so it wasn't exactly being in the corridors of power, but it was a privilege to have been invited to take part on this occasion and to think that I might have said something that may help to determine policy for a possible future government.

When I left the building I made my way across Westminster Bridge and headed towards Waterloo station and the bus stop to get my bus home. Even on a chilly and pretty wet February day there were hundreds of tourists in the area. One of the things that make London a difficult place to walk around these days is that all the tourists stand in the most inconvenient places to take their holiday photographs and videos. Yesterday I had to manoeuvre my way around them as they stood on Westminster Bridge so that they could be recorded standing with Big Ben in the background. Okay, so it's a bit of an inconvenience for anyone, like me, trying to get from one place to another as quickly as possible, but I do get annoyed when they get upset when you walk in front of their camera just as they take their magic shot. There are just so many of them that it is bound to happen because as you try to avoid one of them you will probably spoil the shot for two more. London would be great if there weren't all those tourists!


DeeDee Ramona said...

That was really interesting, thanks.
Well done!

Incidentally, I seem to remember an MP saying on Question Time that all meetings to do with Parliament always start and end on time. Possibly so that everyone is on time for their next one...

BenefitScroungingScum said...

It sounds like a fantastic experience to have had and that you've really made a difference. Hope it leads to many more. The sun is shining and the sky blue here today so I'll try and get out this afternoon to take some photos to put on my blog. We could all do with some sunshine to cheer us up! BG Xx

Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm in awe, and so,so jealous. What an amazing opportunity.