Category Archives: healthcare

On Covid-19, And Conspiracy Theories


I do not normally do conspiracy theories, having had a few offered to me as a journalist which I politely rejected. But let us assemble a few facts and see where they might take us.
This morning Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, is widely quoted as saying the Covid-19 virus was “manufactured” in a Chinese laboratory, presumably the Wuhan Institute of Virology. (This exists; look it up.)
He quotes a Norwegian-British research paper that suggests elements of the virus’s genetic code were “inserted” artificially.
Hardly conclusive. However, fact 2. A couple of weeks ago Luc Montagnier, a French virologist who won the Nobel Prize in 2008 for his work on the AIDS virus, suggested that the Covid-19 genome, which has been decoded, seemed to include elements of quite different viruses, namely a respiratory Coronavirus and AIDS. This suggests “manipulation”, he said. “It’s not natural.”
Montaignier is something of a maverick. But I know enough science to appreciate that it is almost impossible for two such different viruses to exchange genetic material – like crossing a flamingo with a hamster. Or leaving two books together and finding that, overnight, pages of one had migrated to the other. Viruses are indeed like books – mere strings of genetic information.
This is over-simplifying, scientists will appreciate, but correct me if I am wrong. Still, a virus that affected the respiratory system and so was easily spread, combined with an immuno-suppressant, is especially lethal. If that was what you wanted.
Again, not conclusive. Still, fact 3. A week or so ago Rachel Sylvester, a columnist on The Times, where I used to work, said the Tories, left and right of the party, were turning strongly away from the PRC government. Her reasons were not entirely convincing – human rights abuses, the need to strike a trade deal with the US. This is, however, a complete turnabout from the pro-China policies of the Cameron Government, which were based on the need for stronger trade links.
She said that we could expect to see more evidence of this in coming months. Sylvester is an extremely well sourced columnist – if she says the Government is doing this or that, she will have been told this at the highest level.
Since then we have heard, extraordinarily, that the Johnson Government, not exactly a great fan of mass immigration, plans to extend citizenship rights to all three million inhabitants of Hong Kong. A plan written up approvingly by its usual supporters in the press but which has infuriated the Chinese authorities. (Who, incidentally, are frustrating attempts to research the source of the virus.)
Where does this all lead? The security services will know a great deal more than you or I about the aetiology of the virus and how it may have emerged from Wuhan.
Does someone, somewhere, know something that might make it politically expedient, a few months down the line, to say, no, we never liked the Chinese? And here is the proof.
Conspiracy theories are occasionally right. I’d give this one, say, 50/50?

On Doctors

One of the features of the Radio 4 Today programme, to which I have an entirely masochistic addiction, is the shroud-waving doctor.

The British Medical Association is a highly professional middle class trade union, whose spokesmen are extremely articulate – and after all, NHS staff are all angels, aren’t they? So a programme seldom goes by without someone from the BMA or its equivalent telling us that this or that branch of medicine is facing utter collapse unless large amounts of cash are pumped in, right now.

One of those areas facing devastation from a thousand cuts is the local GP’s practise. I have wondered here before whether, given those hospitals under special measures seem more often to be in affluent suburbs and country towns than in impoverished inner city boroughs, any shortage of resources might have more to do with local councils’ willingness to allow house-building on any available scrap of land without providing the necessary infrastructure to cope with a larger population.

Now we learn that the number of GPs retiring or otherwise leaving in their late 50s has more than doubled over the past decade, leaving surgeries understaffed. Even the ones who make it into their 60s are going early.

Part of this is the Law of Unintended Consequences. Changes to pensions legislation has meant that, for highly paid professionals such as doctors, there is no financial benefit to working on to the normal retirement age.

I use a large suburban health centre which has recently moved to new, rather impressive premises. No complaints there; but the turnover of doctors I see does seem remarkably high. A number are mothers who are working part-time. Their prerogative, but it costs as much to train a female doctor who will work a couple of days a week as a male one who works full time.

And I notice that several seem to have retired of late. They are either a testament to their own medical skills, having managed to remain remarkably well preserved right up to the normal retirement age. Or they are going early.