Coming to a hospital near you: Andrew Lansley TV

Patients must watch loop of Health Secretary unless they register with £5-a day TV system.

Should you have the misfortune to be hospitalised you will now be greeted by a never-ending video of Andrew Lansley. The Health Secretary's face appears on bedside screens on a permanent North Korea-style loop, welcoming patients to hospital and asking them to thank NHS staff for looking after them.

To turn Lansley off, patients must register under a pay-as-you-go system which sees them charged £5 a day to access television, email and phone services. Those who do not register are continuously greeted by the Health Secretary saying:

Hello, I'm Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary.

I just want to take a few moments to say that your care while you're here in hospital really matters to me. I hope it's as good quality care as we can possibly make it and I do hope you'll join me in thanking all the staff who are looking after you while you're here.

The Independent reported that "In some wards with multiple beds, the screens have the effect of a television showroom, with dozens of Lansleys staring down on the ill." One man who visited an elderly relative said: "It was eerie. Everywhere you looked there was Andrew Lansley. My mother-in-law had to keep topping up the machine just to escape him."

Lansley defends hospital video loop (mp3)

Lansley gamely appeared on the Today programme this morning to defend himself (you can listen to his appearance above) but his response was hilariously inept. He said that he wanted patients to have "as comfortable and as high quality a stay as possible" (a pledge that sits uncomfortably with Lansley TV) and to ensure that they thanked NHS staff. But shouldn't praise be voluntary? And what of those patients who suffer inadequate care?

He pointed out that his predecessor, Andy Burnham, had appeared in a similar video but failed to explain why the government hadn't simply abandoned Secretary of State TV. In the meantime, ensure you avoid the fate of one of Lansley's constituents who lamented that his baby's "first experience of life" was to see the Health Secretary's face on a monitor.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Britain's shrinking democracy

10 million people - more than voted for Labour in May - will be excluded from the new electoral roll.

Despite all the warnings the government is determined to press ahead with its decision to close the existing electoral roll on December 1. This red letter day in British politics is no cause for celebration. As the Smith Institute’s latest report on the switch to the new system of voter registration shows, we are about to dramatically shrink our democracy.  As many as 10 million people are likely to vanish from the electoral register for ever – equal to 20 per cent of the total electorate and greater than Labour’s entire vote in the 2015 general election. 

Anyone who has not transferred over to the new individual electoral registration system by next Tuesday will be “dropped off” the register. The independent Electoral Commission, mindful of how the loss of voters will play out in forthcoming elections, say they need at least another year to ensure the new accuracy and completeness of the registers.

Nearly half a million voters (mostly the young and those in private rented homes) will disappear from the London register. According to a recent HeraldScotland survey around 100,000 residents in Glasgow may also be left off the new system. The picture is likely to be much the same in other cities, especially in places where there’s greater mobility and concentrations of students.

These depleted registers across the UK will impact more on marginal Labour seats, especially  where turnout is already low. Conversely, they will benefit Tories in future local, Euro and general elections. As the Smith Institute report observers, Conservative voters tend to be older, home owners and less transient – and therefore more likely to appear on the electoral register.

The government continues to ignore the prospect of skewed election results owing to an incomplete electoral registers. The attitude of some Tory MPs hardly helping. For example, Eleanor Laing MP (the former shadow minister for justice) told the BBC that “if a young person cannot organize the filling in of a form that registers them to vote, they don’t deserve the right to vote”.  Leaving aside such glib remarks, what we do know is the new registers will tend to favour MPs whose support is found in more affluent rural and semi-rural areas which have stable populations.  

Even more worrying, the forthcoming changes to MPs constituencies (under the Boundary Review) will be based on the new electoral register. The new parliamentary constituencies will be based not on the voting population, but on an inaccurate and incomplete register. As Institute’s report argues, these changes are likely to unjustly benefit UKIP and the Conservative party.

That’s not to say that the voter registration system doesn’t need reforming.  It clearly does. Indeed, every evidence-based analysis of electoral registers over the last 20 years shows that both accuracy and completeness are declining – the two features of any electoral register that make it credible or not. But, the job must be done properly.  Casually leaving 10m voters off the electoral resister hardly suggests every effort has been made.

The legitimacy of our democratic system rests on ensuring that everyone can exercise their right to vote. This is a task which shouldn’t brook complacency or compromise.  We should be aiming for maximum voter registration, not settling for a system where one in five drop off the register.