Leaders: Alex Salmond paying lip service to Nye Bevan’s bold vision

Nye Bevan (C), whom Salmond quoted in his speech. Picture: Getty
Nye Bevan (C), whom Salmond quoted in his speech. Picture: Getty
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IN A typical of piece of rhetorical bravado, Alex Salmond cited one of the great figures of the Labour party, Aneurin Bevan, in his speech to the SNP’s spring conference, in which he defended his government’s record on the health service and contrasted it with the supposed privatisation plans of the UK coalition.

Mr Salmond quoted with approval the words of Bevan, who created the modern National Health Service in the post-war Labour government, that “no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means”.

Noble sentiments. Sentiments with which few would disagree.

Yet if Nye Bevan is one of the First Minister’s political heroes one would expect the SNP government to put those fine principles into practice. In the case of a drug that could extend the lives of men suffering from prostate cancer, Mr Salmond and his health secretary, Nicola Sturgeon (who is also fond of quoting Bevan), have effectively approved a decision which does the opposite.

Yesterday, the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) ruled the advanced prostate cancer drug abiraterone was too expensive for routine use north of the Border, despite admitting the treatment was clinically effective.

The ruling is a cruel blow for men suffering this condition, for there are no other treatment options if the cancer returns after they have been treated using chemotherapy.

Given Mr Salmond’s boast about the superior stewardship of the NHS in Scotland under his government, it is ironic this drug is available in England, though admittedly only through the Cancer Drugs Fund until a final decision in 2014 on its cost effectiveness by National Institute for Health an Clinical Excellence (NICE), which rules on these matters south of the Border. It is also available in Wales until the NICE decision under the “end of life criteria”, meaning it has been judged to help prolong the life of dying patients.

It is even more ironic that abiraterone has been linked by a prostate specialist to the prolonged life of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was released by the SNP government on the grounds he had three months to live and has outlived this prognosis by more than two years. That Megrahi is not getting his drugs on the NHS will be little comfort to those suffering from prostate cancer in Scotland and their relatives, who believe they should be able to get this treatment on the NHS.

Last night, the Scottish Government said it accepted the recommendation of the SMC as an independent body and would not overrule it. Why? The SNP has made much of being an activist government, often overriding official advice when it deems it right to do so, for example refusing to close hospitals. If he really wants to emulate the founding father of the NHS, Mr Salmond should make abiraterone available on the NHS, so Scotland can live up to Bevan’s noble vision.

No smoking gun has been found

HUGELY dismaying though it may be, caveat emptor remains a key principle in any transaction, and particularly transactions involving equity paper.

Few actions by Royal Bank of Scotland caused so much hurt and damage to shareholder wealth than the ill-fated 2008 rights issue. Launched just when the US subprime mortgage crisis had already exploded and when bank share prices across America and Europe had started to slump, the directors called on shareholders in April of that year for £12 billion – the biggest rights call in UK corporate history – to strengthen the bank and cauterise the damage. Shareholders stumped up 200p per share – only to see the price collapse to just 10.9p by the following January.

Shareholder fury has been understandable, and a multi-billion-pound legal action is now threatened against Fred Goodwin and 16 other directors.

Central to the charge is that investors were misled and vital information was not disclosed. Were Goodwin and his directors guilty of malfeasance? Did they deliberately mislead investors? RBS denies the charges and says it will defend itself vigorously.

That the rights shares were widely taken up by institutional investors and professional fund managers who would have been the first to blow the whistle would seem to count against the action.

While the directors may have deluded themselves that the crisis was manageable, this would not secure a prosecution.

The action requires clear evidence of a smoking gun, and one has yet to be produced after four miserable years.

And just as quickly it was gone…

TO THE beguiling mystery of Unidentified Flying Objects, Nick Pope, who worked for the MoD for 21 years, four of them as the government’s senior UFO investigator, has added a new twist. It is not just mysterious appearances. It’s disappearances too.

He claims to have had a photograph showing a “metallic” spacecraft, some 25 metres in diameter, in the sky over the village of Calvine, near Pitlochry. The picture, taken in August 1990, appeared to show an object, less saucer-shaped than diamond-shaped, hovering as a number of military aircraft made low-level passes. It then shot upwards at great speed.

It was, he said, “easily the most compelling UFO photo I’ve ever seen in my life”. But here’s the real mystery. The picture went to the technical specialists at the Defence Intelligence Staff, where it was said to be the real thing – not a fake. It then mysteriously disappeared.

What can explain this vanishing act? Has it been suppressed? Was it mistaken for a top-secret stealth bomber? He believes his story will send conspiracy theorists into “an absolute frenzy”. And what of the snatch squad from Planet Tharg who snaffled the picture before the truth could be discovered?

Only this endures: the sky over Calvine will never be the same.