I was invited to a Ministerial Launch of the Whole Systems Demonstrator Action Network by Care Services Minister Ivan Lewis today. Kent was recently selected by the Department of Health, along with Newham and Cornwall, as one of three national pilots for TeleHealth equipment. TeleHealth allows people with limiting long-term conditions such as COPD, high blood pressure or diabetes to remain independent in their own homes by monitoring their vital signs themselves and sending them to their GP by telephone.
The event started at 2.30pm at the King's Fund at Cavendish Square in central London. I had ordered a County car for 1pm, which at 1.20pm had still not arrived. By 1.35, my PA had ordered a taxi, which turned up at 1.40pm.
My friendly but inexperienced Eastern European driver followed his SatNav to the letter, on a scenic and circuitous route throught the Blackwall Tunnel, through the City - High Holborn was a particularly notable traffic jam - and eventually, in torrential rain and at twenty past three, into Cavendish Square.
The one saving grace was that, although I was nearly an hour late, I was not the last to arrive. That priviledge was reserved for the Minister, Ivan Lewis who arrived at half past three. He spoke for around fifteen minutes and then apologised for having to leave for a Commons vote.
My County driver had been told to pick me up at 2.30pm - the start time of the event rather than the end time! - and so he had to wait around for two hours until we finished at 4.30pm. The drive home was equally fraught, the driver claiming we had broken all records for the longest return from London, at around three hours.
I did feel that the formula was a little skewed - around sixty people travelled for what would have totalled hundreds of hours to Central London, to meet a single Minister who travelled five minutes down the road. Whilst I appreciate it would have been impractical for Ivan Lewis to drive miles out of town, for the sake of his fifteen minute address could we not have used an M25 venue and a video conferencing link?
From a Government who espouse green values and seem to want to heavily penalise road travel, it seems a curious case of double standards.