Monthly Archives: April 2013

Boris steps up… and puts a foot in his mouth

A quick note to add to last night’s blog… It seems Boris Johnson has held a measles summit at City Hall. He is quoted in the Standard saying that parents should not be “overly concerned” about a measles outbreak in London. That is very, very silly. We need to contain this outbreak as quickly as possible. Although he stressed people should give their kids the MMR vaccine, we must not give the dawdlers any wriggle room. People need to take their kids for vaccination now. Every jab counts; the faster you get it done, the better for everyone.

There is no treatment for measles, Henry’s cancer nurse consultant told me this morning he would have to fight it himself which he has little ability to do. Please be concerned, if not for your child then for other children.

[Update: I’ve just had a terse exchange with the Mayor’s Director of Communications who felt Boris had been misunderstood and that he had been trying to avoid panicking people. He also said the Mayor’s record was good on MMR, which is true. But I pointed out (as Celia did on LBC 97.9 this evening), that people didn’t know what ‘overly’ meant and they assumed it implied measles was not something to worry about (as many callers were saying on LBC 97.9).

Hopefully there will be a clarification on its way from Boris. Good grief!]

A million children

This should be a blog reflecting pleasantly on a successful week. I feel like we’ve actually made a dent. Henry has been the centre of a lot of positive messages explaining to people why they should have their children vaccinated with the MMR jab.

Salute

Henry heads off for his first TV interview – BBC London News while he receives chemo.

I think he will be able to say that he saved some children from hospital, possibly from serious injury and perhaps even death. Of course, we’ll never know, which is just fine by me. Henry has appeared willingly on TV (Sky News, BBC One and Five News to mention a few) and in the newspapers, he has been photographed and questioned. He has listened to worrying conversations and his angry parents. He’s also had more heavy duty chemo that will hobble him and make his hair drop out. He is six and a marvel.

But I’m still livid about this outbreak of measles and I know why.

A million children in this country are at risk from measles. A million. Think about that.

Of course most of our anger is focused on the fraudster who started this tragedy. He is beneath contempt. I won’t spare more words on him than are strictly necessary. The anger here pales into insignificance against my ire with that conman. I am not comparing him to anyone and I am not equating his action with anyone’s. He should have been arrested and charged with Actual Bodily Harm and manslaughter years ago. He is a dreg.

Even so, there is a group of people who have been conspicuous in their silence and we are growing increasingly angry about this.

With a couple of honourable exceptions, our political leaders have been complicit in an unacceptable silence. What would speaking out have cost them? Why wait for a public health campaign, when every day, they have access to as much free media as they want to create? Why did none of them step forward to help avert an epidemic?

In that last blog I was critical of Margaret Thatcher’s view that there is no such thing as society. I argued that only by being a society could we defeat measles. But I think over the years since she and, for all his faults, Tony Blair left power, something else has slipped away from our politicians. They froth at the mouth and call each other names over dozens of paltry issues each week, when they see some infinitesimal political advantage to be gained. But where is the conviction?

Why, when a million children are at risk do we hear nothing? A million children.

This week at Prime Minister’s Questions not one of our elected representatives raised measles or questioned David Cameron about his Government’s plans.

In fact the only question asked of the Health Secretary was from Sarah Wollaston MP – who sits on the Health Select Committee. I had lobbied her to ask Jeremy Hunt about the threat of measles to children like Henry.

Times, Wednesday 24 April 2013

Times, Wednesday 24 April 2013

Fortunately that exchange was picked up by The Times.

Did the Opposition think to probe further? Did they point out that it had taken the government weeks to respond to an all-too-predictable crisis? Did they ask what the government was doing to prevent an outbreak of measles in older people? Did they do their job? A million children at risk.

Sarah Wollaston was incidentally the only MP on the committee to respond to me meaningfully; one said I wasn’t his constituent so he wouldn’t help; the rest (at the time of writing) were silent.  My own MP has been unusually quiet.

A million children at risk. My beautiful son at the extreme edge of ‘at risk’.

Sometimes leaders have to lead. That means talking about things you would rather not. It means speaking up when you don’t think it will give you a bounce in the polls and it means engaging with issues that actually affect your fellow countrymen. And of all things, it means using the soapbox you are handed every day to do something. Step up David Cameron. Step up Nick Clegg. Step up Ed Miliband. Step up Jeremy Hunt. Step up Boris Johnson. Do your jobs.

I’m a great believer that politicians serve at the pleasure of the people.  Service and duty – important words those.  Above all I believe our children need to see examples of proper leadership in the first real crisis of their young lives. Don’t let them down.

Oh and wash your hands too

We have of course been reflecting a lot on the death of Margaret Thatcher this week. There’s been plenty written elsewhere and I’m not going to bore you with our rather predictable views on her passing.

She was famous for a quote that appeared in Woman’s Own in 1987: “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves first and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations, because there is no such thing as entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation.”

This is one of those quotes lefties like me like to use to berate her and the legacy she has left. Mostly we think she means (and of course she did mean) people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, get on their bike and stop using welfare as a crutch. Most people of my bent would argue she misses the point and that support for the weakest enriches the lives of all of us.

But what if we held this quote up to be used to shine a light on other situations – say those who refuse to vote, or hide their money in off-shore accounts or refuse to vaccinate their children. To make things more palatable (to my taste), you have to remove the small word “no” and then remove the two words:  “first” and perhaps “individual” and a “then”. Now you have a view I find more compelling:

“There is such thing as society. There are men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations, because there is no such thing as entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation.”

This has been in my mind because of a tragedy unfolding in Wales that is too close to home  – the measles outbreak in Swansea.

We had hoped Henry would be able to go back to school for the start of the summer term – just a couple of hours a day at first to see how he does.  But children with leukaemia or any disease where their immune system is suppressed, are at huge risk from measles. It is, according to the World Health Organization, one of the biggest preventable killers of children in the world. Henry had his MMR; he had the booster; in fact he’s up to date with all his vaccines. Sadly none of them works. We have the leukaemia to thank for that.

Viruses spread like leaping fires. They flare in unexpected places, and school holidays and movements of people help them to move across the country. This is utterly sickening for the families of children with suppressed immune systems. When the first death or serious disability comes from measles, it will be a child like Henry. But where will they catch it? They will catch it from someone who is unvaccinated. Andrew Wakefield, the discredited charlatan, who cooked up spurious links with other childhood disorders, for his own personal gain, must bear much of the blame. But he has been comprehensively discredited. And while any death from measles would surely leave a child’s blood on his hands, parents also have a duty to wake up and smell the coffee. I am writing this as an ardent supporter of vaccination brought to us through reliable, tried and tested and tried and tested and tried and tested science. Medical research has after all improved Henry’s chances of cure from his leukaemia to above 90%. It has immeasurably improved all our lives.

Together we have achieved so much – all of us by paying our taxes, most by giving to research charities and some through careers in science and medicine. Henry is currently part of a clinical trial (UKALL2011). He didn’t hesitate in joining the trial when I explained it may at times be more difficult for him but that he would be helping children who don’t yet have leukaemia. I have a lot to be proud of him for, but that is near the top of the list. He has met his obligations.

So what about the rest of us? One of our obligations is rather simple – to try to stay well.  If you can avoid falling ill, then do it… the simplest way to protect yourself and your family and your neighbour is to get your jabs. Some people can’t. Children like Henry can’t. And they are relying on you. For medicine to work, we cannot be individuals, we have to be a society.

20130413-224046.jpg

Henry’s finally fallen asleep at 22.40. He’s spent the day chasing his cousins, pretending (convincingly)to be a trapeze artist, and trampolining. He’s also on three types of chemo that would knock an adult flat. I think he may actually be a superhero. (Apologies for radio silence over the last fortnight, more to come.)