Thursday, 30 April 2020

"He Will Do The Lancet Proud"

 

Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the medical journal, The Lancet, was interviewed on 24 April for the Financial Times by Anjana Ahuja. A friend sent me a copy knowing that my father had been a past editor.


He died seven years ago and was delighted when Richard visited him in his care home. After one visit I asked him how it had gone. In answer he smiled and said, “A solid chap. He will do the Lancet proud.”

 

He was right.


I first met Richard Horton on the ‘Peoples Train” to the Stop the War demonstration outside the 2006 Manchester Labour Party conference. A memorable journey. Richard travelling with his wife and daughter and there to address us about war mortalities in Iraq. Tony Benn was with us, joking that we had nationalised the railways for one day. Most memorable of all were Hettie Bower and Bernhard Herzberg.


Hettie was then aged 101 (she died age 108) and Bernhard 97. They sat opposite each other and didn’t exchange a word. I was told later that she, as a German Communist, couldn’t stand the sight of Bernhard, who was a German Trotskyist.


Whatever the orgins of their political loyalties it certainly gave them longevity.


The Lancet had published a report in 2004 from a group of American and Iraqi public-health scientists whose survey had found that about 650,000 Iraqi casualties had taken place after the 2003 occupation . With forthrightness Horton said, The best hope we can have from our terrible misadventure in Iraq is that a new political and social movement will grow to overturn this politics of humiliation. We are one human family. Let's act like it.”


Fourteen years later Horton told the BBC that the UK government response to the Covid-19 pandemic is a ‘national scandal’ accusing them of adopting a laissez-faire response by floating the idea of ‘herd immunity’. “We’ve had the biggest science policy failure in a generation,” he told the Guardian, adding these words to the FT. “I’m angry because I know how good the NHS can be. Politicians and policymakers and scientists let down the NHS and its staff. And that’s unforgiveable.”


Unafraid to speak out he said, “Some of the great advances, like the 19th century sanitary movement and the birth of the NHS, were not technical accomplishments, but political struggles.”


Health workers in the present crisis”, he told the FT, “have been bullied and forced to see patients who clealy have or are suspected of having Covid-19 without PPE. When they raise concerns, they are belittled or threatened. It’s horrifying to see the lack of concern by some NHS management.”


Two years ago Horton was diagnosed with advanced melanoma. I had no idea about this. When in contact with me he has enquired about my health problems and said not a word about his own.


I agree with him about his experiences as a NHS patient. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in an institution where people have been so genuinely kind and thoughtful. That’s why I’m so angry that we didn’t act sooner.”


And with this comment, “I wake up and think I’ve got to make the most of every day, because I don’t know how many I will have.”


I hoipe you will join with me and insist on many many more.


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