A science teacher places a five-litre measuring cylinder filled with pebbles on the desk in front of his students.
‘Is this full?’, he asks the class. There are murmurs of yes and no and a few non-committal grunts. He takes a large beaker of gravel and tips it into the cylinder.
‘Is it full now?’ The students are quiet, sensing a trick question. He pulls out a beaker of sand and pours that into the top of the measuring cylinder.
‘How about now?’ he says. A few students nod.
He shakes his head and produces a beaker of water from under the bench.
‘There is still more space in this cylinder,’ he says, as he pours water into it.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has recently announced that more cash is going to be poured into the NHS, inciting a mixed response from medical commentators, politicians, healthcare workers and the general public. No-one can agree whether he is try to fill large gaps with gravel, smaller gaps with sand or squeezing in a small amount of water.
Part of me realises that this money must come from somewhere and is either already in the health system in one form or another, or is being taken from another public service. After all, the last time I looked the deficit was not coming down. But for now, George Osborne has got the headlines that he wanted in the ongoing political juggling act of trying to appear more pro-NHS than anyone else.
And to that end, I can’t help feel disheartened at the calculated way the announcement was made on a Sunday morning television show – designed to capture the Monday morning newspaper headlines and the blogs, tweets and Facebook posts of the weekenders keeping half an eye on their laptops whilst waiting for something worthwhile to happen on TV.
The announcement was made with only a television host to ask pertinent questions – a host constrained by etiquette, time and an agenda that pushed the discussion along far quicker than an open debate in the House of Commons (where the Autumn Statement is due to take place on Wednesday). By then, I am sure that Mr Osborne’s special advisors will be aware of the arguments and questions he is likely to face in Parliament, thanks to this high-profile, comfy-sofa test-drive.
Even if the money helps us, the manner of the announcement leaves a bad taste in my mouth – further demonstrating that any tactics will do when using the NHS as leverage for May’s election.
Dr Samir Dawlatly is a GP in Birmingham.