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
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It's not WhatsApp that was at fault in the Westminster attacks. It's our prisons

Britain's criminal justice system neither deterred nor rehabilitated Khalid Masood, and may even have facilitated his radicalisation. 

The dust has settled, the evidence has been collected and the government has decided who is to blame for the attack on Westminster. That’s right, its WhatsApp and their end-to-end encryption of messages. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, wants tech companies to install a backdoor into messages like these that the government can then access.

There are a couple of problems here, not least that Adrian Russell aka Khalid Masood was known to the security services but considered to be low-risk. Even if the government had had the ability to gain entry to his WhatsApp, they wouldn’t have used it. Then there’s the fact that end-to-end encryption doesn’t just protect criminals and terrorists – it protects users from criminals and terrorists. Any backdoor will be vulnerable to attack, not only from our own government and foreign powers, but by non-state actors including fraudsters, and other terrorists.

(I’m parking, also, the question of whether these are powers that should be handed to any government in perpetuity, particularly one in a country like Britain’s, where near-unchecked power is handed to the executive as long as it has a parliamentary majority.)

But the biggest problem is that there is an obvious area where government policy failed in the case of Masood: Britain’s prisons system.

Masood acted alone though it’s not yet clear if he was merely inspired by international jihadism – that is, he read news reports, watched their videos on social media and came up with the plan himself – or he was “enabled” – that is, he sought out and received help on how to plan his attack from the self-styled Islamic State.

But what we know for certain is that he was, as is a recurring feature of the “radicalisation journey”, in possession of a string of minor convictions from 1982 to 2002 and that he served jail time. As the point of having prisons is surely to deter both would-be offenders and rehabilitate its current occupants so they don’t offend again, Masood’s act of terror is an open-and-shut case of failure in the prison system. Not only he did prison fail to prevent him committing further crimes, he went on to commit one very major crime.  That he appears to have been radicalised in prison only compounds the failure.

The sad thing is that not so very long ago a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice was thinking seriously about prison and re-offending. While there was room to critique some of Michael Gove’s solutions to that problem, they were all a hell of a lot better than “let’s ban WhatsApp”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.