Winston was right

Everything Professor Winston said about the NHS is true (NS Interview, 17 January). He should not retract or deny anything he said in the article. If Alastair Campbell pressurises him, he should resign the Labour whip.

The retraction issued by Lord Winston is sad, but the true disgrace is Mr Campbell's phone call to Professor Winston. I am delighted to know that you have the tape of the interview in your possession.

Peter Davies
General Practitioner, East Kilbride

While Lord Winston's criticisms of new Labour's handling of the NHS are welcome, I would like to point out that Britain's situation isn't unique. In Texas we've had flu of near-epidemic proportions, which has put a huge strain on our medical resources. Exactly the same problems have occurred - lack of emergency beds, lack of staff to man them, more patients than can be readily dealt with. Doctors' surgeries are crowded and chaotic, and sometimes you have to wait two hours or more past your appointment time before you finally see a harassed GP. I have also been in England, looking after my mother who had nothing but praise for the NHS, especially the care and respect she got from staff. At home, care workers helped her at every stage. She did not have the anxiety of having to deal with private insurance companies querying almost every decision, which has been the horrendous experience of dying friends in the US.

Michael Moorcock
Lost Pines, Texas

Any serious and responsible journalist interviewing a co-operative subject will allow the person interviewed to put some things "off the record" - provided that such a proviso is made in advance. "Oops, I shouldn't have said that, scratch it out" is unacceptable; but "Don't quote what I'm going to tell you now" is wholly in order.

By placing his hand over the reporter's microphone Robert Winston signalled that his aside about Cherie Blair's confinement was off the record, and it was shabby of you to quote it. That the remark was entirely irrelevant to the subject of the interview and, indeed, of no political or social significance, made your callow opportunism inexcusable; and no doubt it was exactly this indiscretion by Winston, with its potential of a complaint to the General Medical Council, that provided Downing Street with the fulcrum to lever him into a general retraction of his criticisms of new Labour's handling of the NHS.

Neville Maxwell

EDITOR'S NOTE: We stand by our decision to publish that section of the interview. Mary Riddell explains the circumstances on page 8

This article first appeared in the 24 January 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The tyranny of the brands