As the NHS reform Bill is being debated in the House of Lords this week, I've collected together some of my Telegraph columns that i've written about the Bill. I've put them in chronological order as they were published.
Have just found these clips of me on the Jeremy Kyle show from last year. They're from the programme on cosmetic surgery with the lovely Jonquille Chantrey and of course, Jezza himself. Below, I've also posted the column I wrote in Nov 2010 for the Telegraph about appearing on the programme.
Don’t scoff at Jeremy Kyle – to many, he’s a saviour
If you’re middle class and ill, you can see your doctor. For the less fortunate, there’s reality TV , says Max Pemberton.
'You’re going on The Jeremy Kyle Show? You can’t be serious,” said my friend. “Why would you want to do that?” He spat the words out in disgust. “I thought it might be interesting.” I replied innocently. He shook his head in disbelief. This was not the first time I had come up against this reaction. What struck me as interesting was that, despite being disparaging and dismissive about the show, all my friends watched it when they had the opportunity. It was their guilty secret. They sat on the sofa, sipping their morning cup of tea, transfixed as they gawped at people spilling out their dysfunctional lives on air for the amusement of the nation.
I should perhaps explain that I was not going on Jeremy Kyle to disclose some salacious aspect of my life. My mother is not having an affair with my pet hamster and I don’t need a paternity test to find out if John Prescott is my father. The programmes I filmed, which air this week, focus on medical issues. The idea was to make medicine more accessible and educate the public about health issues.
As I don’t have a TV, I had actually never seen a whole episode before, but given the reaction of my friends, I was slightly wary before we began filming. However, as I talked to the audience, to the production team and to the guests, I began to see how, for a cohort of the population, The Jeremy Kyle Show provides an important social function. At the root of this is class. It’s unfashionable to talk about this, but it’s true. The educated, middle classes watch the show and laugh. For them, it is a Hogarthian glimpse into the world of the underclass and their excesses and debauched lives. It is shameless voyeurism; a carnivalesque spectacle enabling them to sit comfortably on the moral high ground, passing judgment on the proles who parade themselves in front of them on the screen. But for the guests, it is often the only opportunity they have to get support. I do know that Jeremy Kyle’s style is not to everyone’s taste. He’s confrontational and judgmental. But, for many, his style provides a moral barometer and sense of justice and retribution that is often devoid in their lives.
By the end of filming, I had gained an invaluable insight into how parts of society view doctors and I’d come to realise that medicine is failing a large section of society. I had been speaking to one of the guests – a lovely, bubbly woman – outside as she smoked a cigarette. After an accident, she had become addicted to prescription painkillers and tranquillisers.
“But why didn’t you go to your doctor and get help?” I asked.
She looked at me with genuine surprise at the suggestion: “Oh, they wouldn’t help. They don’t have time for the likes of me.”
The awful thing was, I suspected she was right. In fact, she had been to her doctor some time ago and he had simply stopped the prescription, totally ignoring the fact that she had developed a physical dependence to the medication, meaning she was forced to buy the tablets on the street. For people who are disempowered and disfranchised like her, doctors are distant, fearsome creatures who don’t listen and don’t help. They dismiss her and her problems, despite the fact that she is in far more need than the middle class who clutter up surgery waiting rooms.
This sense of alienation from the medical profession was a recurring theme with the guests I talked to. I felt ashamed and embarrassed that doctors were apparently letting these people down so spectacularly. In communities where poverty is rife, doctors should be engaging with patients at every opportunity, reaching out to them in an attempt to break the link between impoverishment and ill health. Yet this clearly isn’t happening. It’s far easier to help some articulate yummy mummy who knows what she wants and her rights.
For those living on sink-estates, unemployed and uneducated, the best hope they have of addressing their problems is by appearing on the programme. The aftercare service provided by the show is faultless, and the team of psychotherapists and nurses ensure the guests access care and services that any middle-class person would have at the click of a well-manicured finger. For those who feel marginalised and ignored by the medical profession, Jeremy Kyle is a saviour.