Is the Department of Health the right place for anyone of a sensitive disposition?

David Anderson, the final minister to come under the microscope, has had a relatively quiet year, which is probably just how he likes it.

In a year that saw other Isle of Man Government departments suffering cuts, the Department of Health was permitted to increase its net spending by £3.6m (3 per cent).

Few would begrudge the biggest spending department being allowed more to spend. If we can’t cater for improvements to health services in the Isle of Man, then we really are up the Swanny. (It’s a pity the same attitude was not applied by the Council of Ministers to education, but that’s another story.)

And few have ever appeared to have cause to question Mr Anderson’s handling of financial matters. He appears to have a steady hand.

So Mr Anderson has had a less difficult time than some of his colleagues in the Council of Ministers.

Not that the past year has been entirely without discomfort for the MHK for Glenfaba.

For many observers get the impression that Mr Anderson is a little squeamish on certain matters.

Certainly, Kate Beecroft and Brenda Cannell smelled blood when challenging him on the racy issue of condoms. They tried, without success, to get him to reconsider his department’s refusal to distribute free condoms to vulnerable groups and sexually active young people in a bid to limit any spread of HIV.

They quizzed him on it in the House of Keys in December, but he declined to revisit the subject.

Mr Anderson has always argued that education on sexual health is a better approach. He also said that a revised sexual health strategy was to be expected in the first half of 2012.

I may have missed it, but I don’t recall any such programme being revealed. Nor does it appear to be included in the scores of official Department of Health announcements logged on its website this year.

In isolation, it causes little more than a raised eyebrow, but there do seem to be certain issues that Mr Anderson tends to be a little uncomfortable in dealing with on the political front.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the long-running saga in which it was claimed that the department was cutting down its commitment towards breast care, following the wording of an advertisement to find a replacement for a highly respected consultant  ­- and, for the record, I believe the department was not actually trying to reduce the service – by failing to explain the situation adequately at the start, Mr Anderson and health chiefs allowed an issue to escalate, causing concern for many vulnerable women.

And there was an underlying feeling that, if the health minister had shown either a greater understanding of the concerns in the first place, the whole episode could have been avoided.

That suspicion is probably down to an early occasion involving women’s health when the department – with Mr Anderson at the helm – did not cover itself in glory.

In 2010 the budget for IVF treatment was more than halved. At first the department tried to claim that up to three cycles of treatment per eligible couple would continue to be funded, but was later forced to admit only one cycle of IVF would be paid for.

At the time, it wasn’t clear whether Mr Anderson’s lack of clarity, when the cut was first announcement was due to insufficient advice or from his own lack of comfort with the subject matter.

Those who remember his time as education minister will also recall how he opposed moves to remove from the statute book the controversial Section 38, which banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools and was seen by many as preventing teachers from educating children properly about sexual health.

He was quoted at that time – about six years ago – as saying homosexuality ‘has huge health implications’.

Mr Anderson may be squeamish about certain issues, but if he lets it cloud policy in the future, we have reason to be squeamish about the man in charge of health.

So this review has been less about the past year and more about Mr Anderson’s overall track record and how it could impact on his future.

Health Minister is not a job for the faint hearted.

GNU rating: 7/10


EXTRA NOTE: Following publication of this article, I was contacted by Department of Health member Dudley Butt via Twitter, who said: ‘£3m increase for Health (less than 2%) gave us less money this year. Drug inflation over 10%; heat power etc well over 3%.

‘Wages, increased numbers for treatment, new procedures etc  meant we had to save over £2m just to stand still.’

Follow on Twitter: @Norbertsdad


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About Paul Speller

Writer, journalist, husband, dad.
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One Response to Is the Department of Health the right place for anyone of a sensitive disposition?

  1. Pingback: Here is the GNUs: Isle of Man ministerial league table confirmed | Paul Speller

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