by Amy Jones
Tuesday, 6
April 2021
Debate
08:15

The Government’s paternalism is eroding public trust

Making a habit of withholding information will have damaging consequences
by Amy Jones
The point of healthcare communication is to inform and empower — not obfuscate and confuse. Credit: Getty

There are no certainties in life. Which is why it may initially be tempting to forgive Boris Johnson’s noncommittal answer last week when he was asked if two vaccinated people could meet indoors. He responded that they couldn’t, as vaccines “are not giving 100% protection”.

Technically, this may be true — very little in life is 100% guaranteed — but coming against the backdrop of increasing disquietude in the form of vaccine passports, EU indecisiveness over the Astra-Zeneca jab, and the ever present churn of conspiracy theories, it was hardly a reassuring answer. How will that convince the sceptical and the hesitant to roll up their sleeves?

Nor did it acknowledge the fact that many of the government plans to exit lockdown and end restrictions will soon be reliant upon the assumption that vaccinated people are indeed “safe”. It also contradicted the advice of the American Center for Disease Control, an organisation that, for once, has been far more pragmatic on this issue, advising that yes, two vaccinated people can meet indoors.

Perhaps it was an answer borne of political expediency, a desire not to undermine current restrictions, and memories of backtracking over Christmas. But more than that, it is a perfect example of political healthcare communication over the last 12 months.

The point of healthcare communication should be to inform and empower, but too often the way information has been conveyed by politicians during this pandemic has resulted in neither. Instead we have witnessed ministers make blanket, vague statements, which often border on misleading. It is difficult to tell if this is due to a failure to understand the science on their part, reservations about the ability of the public to understand complexity, or a habit stemming from slogan-based political soundbites. Clearly it also results from a belief that the best way to ensure public compliance is paternalistically: to carefully limit the information given.

The combined effect is entirely counterproductive. Few will forget, for example, Nadine Dorries’ famous assertion that there is “no such thing as herd immunity”, which, whilst written at a time before we had vaccines for Covid, was still fundamentally incorrect.

It is difficult to predict the long-term effect on the public of this habit of withholding information and being unduly pessimistic about interventions. Whilst this may have aided compliance, in the longer term it will surely result in eroded public trust and enable conspiracy theories to better circulate in the vacuum. In medicine we were supposed to have learned long ago that this form of paternalism ended up harming more than it helped. It is time for politicians and “public health practitioners” to recognise this too.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
29 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Alison Houston
Alison Houston
1 year ago

I don’t think you should abuse the word ‘paternalism’ in this way.

Fathers are good, they set boundaries, they expect good behaviour, they instil discipline and bring their children to adulthood in a way which mothers are not quite so capable of, left to their own, mollycoddling devices. The government is not being paternalistic. It is the opposite of that.

The government is protecting its oligarch friends who benefit from the closing down of society. It is protecting Schwab’s lot, the oligarchs,while trying also to protect the pharmaceutical industry. It does not want us to return to self disciplined, adult freedom, because it does not wish us to stand on our own two feet as a father would. It wants to remove our independence entirely and keep us subjugated and at the mercy of those who can exploit us to the nth degree in perpetuity.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

I notice this article was written by a doctor-now I expect someone who has trained for 7 years to know better than myself how to treat my broken bone. However politicians are not experts-they often get re-shuffled to different departments-do we think the minister for transport has suddenly acquired a new expertise when he becomes minister for education? Throw in the 2012 expenses scandal and its obvious where many politicians priorities are and its not with the electorate.

Samir Zulfiquar
Samir Zulfiquar
1 year ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

The “public health” establishment act more like domestic abusers than (proper) father figures.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

This is not ‘paternalism’, it is psychopathic tyranny allied to rampant corruption and spellbinding incompetence.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Knowledge is power. Therefore, those who have or want power will do their best to keep others from getting it, especially those whom they think might make use of it against their interests.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Thank you for you9r always informed and nuanced intervention. All politicians, or at least ones to the left of Genghis Khan, seem to you ‘psychopathic tyrants’ all hugely corrupt, incompetent etc etc.

This is just childish name-calling. Why are they? What are the social, economic. historical and public opinion contexts they exist in? They want to get elected don’t they? Is it just the British, European and US public who have some special affinity with psychopaths for some reason, or is this a wider problem? Do you think it is actually impossible to have good governments? What about Switzerland, Taiwan, Singapore and many others. Could they teach us any lessons? Perhaps so although every country has a different history and political options. (Try for starters radically reforming the tax code in the UK, easy to say, not easy to do, not least because of vast numbers of affluent beneficiaries of the existing rates, allowances etc.). Abolish the NHS – and get destroyed at the next election. I think the Tories are cannier than that…

I’m not sure what kind of society you’d like to see, as you never enlighten us. There is no settled society that has existed without some form of government and power structure, with no doubt many of the ills you state (but often hugely exaggerate). The question is, how do we improve them?

Cynical nihilism sounds clever up to a point, but is utterly unilluminating, and frankly, when you’ve read the same comment a hundred times (whatever the topic!) pretty boring too.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Edo era Japan, the USSR, Nazi Germany, North Korea all used lockdown to cement their place in power and achieve totalitarian control over society. This is not at sll unknown in history. China has developed a somewhat softer form. A totalitarian light if you will. This appears to be what the Western leaders are drivimg for. Looking at the Bill and Melinda Gates efforts along with the media put out by the WEF it appears they are going to use this virus plus a renewed campaign around climate change to destroy the Western middle class and usher in a neofeudal era. Tech oligarchs and global finance will be at the top of the power pyramid with tyrannical control over all resources. The rest of the world will be carefully monitored to make sure they are not consuming too many resources. The desire is to limit energy use of the great unwashed. Sure… it may seem craxy but I don’t know how you can conclude anything else listening to their words. Fauci published a scientific paper in cell last year stating we are in a “pandemic era” as a result of climate change. The track and trace, the lockdowns, the vaccine passports are about establishing total control. Elections will all be meaningless from this point forward. Afterall… what are we going to do? Fight them?

Last edited 1 year ago by Dennis Boylon
Samir Zulfiquar
Samir Zulfiquar
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

If placing the whole of the population under default house arrest dose not qualify as psychopathic tyranny then what does?

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago

I used to think that conspiracy theories were more the result of c**k ups than anything else.
But when a minister says that there are no plans to have vaccine papers, then it comes out that the Government has plans, it does dent ones confidence in Government.
Now it is quite clear the the Government is demanding the use of vaccine papers.
They are performing “trials”, which I am confident will “prove” that they are a success.
This “success” will lead to the Government implementing their regular use.
Using this nudge technique, they will most likely then use their success to introduce ID cards.
To quote Sir Kneel this is most un-British.

Samir Zulfiquar
Samir Zulfiquar
1 year ago

In this day and age it boggles my mind that anyone can still look at whats going on in the world without becoming a so called “conspiracy theorist”

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
1 year ago

I used to think David Icke was nothing but a complete lunatic. After witnessing government action the last year I owe Mr. Icke an apology. The only reasonable asnwer to this insanity is that we are indeed ruled by lizard people.

Andrea Re
Andrea Re
1 year ago

I would like to know why the government is determined to play down the vaccines. How does he hope to keep uptake up if they believe they don’t *really* work?

Samir Zulfiquar
Samir Zulfiquar
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

Simple, they want to keep you locked down even if you submit and get the vaccine.
They’re moving the goalposts again just like 2 weeks to slow the spread.
Of course, they still want to force the jab on people.
Once you understand that it’s about them completely screwing you over the inconsistent logic starts to make perfect sense.

Carl Goulding
Carl Goulding
1 year ago

Making a habit of government by fear and censorship will also have damaging consequences.

Vasiliki Farmaki
Vasiliki Farmaki
1 year ago

Petition: I am trying to set up a reverse/contrasting petition to the existing one: ‘Introduce Vaccination passports for International travel’. To my understanding it is vital as no other time before to speak up, for those who believe in freedom, democracy, free will and choice, and the values of western culture. For all we have been experiencing lately, though there is no end and no light to be seen at the end of the tunnel. We are into the tunnel with no return. My petition is: ‘Do not Introduce Vaccine or other Medical passports for International travel’. If anyone wishes to help, please click the link below. Initially required 5 supporters, then 21 signatures and they will look at it and decide to publish it or not. Personally, I have already signed two petitions. 1. Do not roll out covid-19 vaccine passports (I suppose that refers to pubs, theatres etc) and 2. Repeal corona virus act and end all covid-19 restrictions. Considering those two petitions have been accepted and please have a look to the numbers online. For example ‘Do not roll out covid-19 vaccine passports’ has accumulated 331,272 for now, whereas the opposite ‘Roll out covid-19 vaccine passports’ had about 5,700.. last time I visited the page, but I cannot find it right now (?).. However, I read recently that Boris said: definitely going to be a world in which international travel will use vaccine passports… What is wrong with all of them? Do politicians personify their total failure with sanity? Please support if you feel that we must make our voices taken seriously this time. I am afraid all politicians everywhere working extremely hard and aiming: to end democracy and freedom by the means of surrendering our sensitive personal data, our private, personal, sacred bodies to them indefinitely. And the parallel defeat, not too clear right now, of denouncing our own uniqueness of being creative persons and the ownership of a lifetime as meaningless and unworthy. .. I hope the link works.. https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/581812/sponsors/new?token=iV4sLxnpE-we0y88vKma

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago

Thank you; as always you have stated your view very clearly. I feel rather a hypocrite because one part of me totally agrees with you but, the default selfish part of me feels that if my only option for international travel is to have a Covid ‘passport’, I want to have one.

Vasiliki Farmaki
Vasiliki Farmaki
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Thank you too, what is good for me it might be horrible for someone else. I think we cannot decide for others life, well-being, choices, and the risks they might want to take, and where they want to go. But do you believe a certificate, or under-skin chip etc could ever protect us from anything? The same happened with the cameras, supposedly to prevent the bad guys and find more terrorists etc.. but what has actually happened is that we are the terrorists because we are being watched 24/7, how many thieves, criminals and terrorists have you seen around? and how many were prevented from acts of violence because of the cameras?.. I hope you realize when they say, controlling the virus, they mean us… If we go this way, far more horrific terms awaiting upon our lives around the corner.. this is not at all a decision for covid.. because we do not even know if there has been a pandemic at all.. Why? 1. Introducing totally unreliable tests everywhere possible, to make up numbers so as to keep going with the scary narrative and convince as many for temporarily approved vaccines that None has taken responsibly of, other the one who offers their arms to be injected.. 2. there have been no autopsies/necropsies anywhere in the world, of the so called dead with/from covid.. is this not blatantly unscientific and misleading? Though they could have a few here and there.. 3. if you visit WhO website it is stated 2million++ deaths Reported.. why? because nobody is able to Confirm those are indeed dead from/with covid without autopsy.. The more we play this game the weaker and more depressed we become.

David Simpson
David Simpson
1 year ago

The link works but they say they are still checking to see if the petition is valid

Vasiliki Farmaki
Vasiliki Farmaki
1 year ago
Reply to  David Simpson

Yes I got the 5 initial supporters and now they look at it.. I suppose they will e-mail me if it will go to the next stage of 21 signatures. Thank you so much.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

This is truly bonkers. From a reasonable scepticism about the right response to a new pandemic illness which has about a 1% infection fatality rate (which, unimpeded, still amounts to a very large number of potential deaths), we now in your comment have an out-and – out denial that there has even BEEN a pandemic. (In which case some of the critics have to get their story straight, you can’t really blame China for a non-existent pandemic).

You ask for proof by individual autopsy results. Do you question all other mortality figures in the same way? Or indeed the undoubted big increase in 2020 in the number of excess deaths in the UK and other countries?

I find it interesting that some of whom I assume are far Right or Libertarian critics of government responses, have suddenly become very interested in mental health, domestic abuse, and cancer, subjects they previously showed not the slightest interest in, and probably grumbled on about nanny statism. Anything is grist to the mill in their denial.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

.2 percent IFR. It is age stratified too. It is practically zero for children. Most overblown nonsense ever. I finally know somebody who died of it after over a year. This was recent. I work at a large heavy industrial plant with over 400 people and we receive over 100 contractors a day. Never shutdown. We have only two employees severely effected. One is 72 and in good health. Spent two days in ICU for dehydration and has been back to work since last May. Perfectly healthy now. The employee who recently died had been taken out of the site in an ambulance twice passed out for other medical problems. He supposedly died of covid. We have had many covid cases. Everyone has fully recovered and come back to work with no issues except the one death. This has nothing to do with a virus. Just listen to Fauci, Gates, and the WEF. That is our future

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
1 year ago

“there have been no autopsies/necropsies anywhere in the world, of the so called dead with/from covid.. is this not blatantly unscientific and misleading? Though they could have a few here and there.”
You clearly haven’t looked very hard. Here’s a good review with lots of pictures and a comprehensive list of references : “COVID-19 autopsies: conclusions from international studies”  VivekSekhawat AnnaGreen UlaMahadeva Diagnostic Histopathology March 2021
This is a multi organ, endothelial thrombotic disease. Clinicians have had over a year dealing with this. You think they can’t make a spot on diagnosis by now for hospitalised patients ?
As for your inane comment about tests – well there are so many good sources available now to explain to you the ins and outs of testing on an individual and population basis and what the words “false positive” and “false negative” actually mean and when they are or are not important … I don’t know where to begin.
You sound very frightened. I suggest a brisk walk in the open air to make yourself feel better.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
1 year ago

Shutting down hospital services and isolating the elderly has most certainly killed a lot of people. Depopulation?

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
1 year ago

I have signed a few petitions during this covid scare, some have been discussed in parliament, none have made a blind bit of difference.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

It is difficult to predict the long-term effect on the public of this habit of withholding information and being unduly pessimistic about interventions.
Is it difficult? I’d say the opposite is true. People see govt as something between a punchline and a force for harming those who fund it. We’ve had a year now to assess the efficacy of the steps taken. We’ve had a year now to assess the results and the damage caused by those steps.

Clay Trowbridge
Clay Trowbridge
1 year ago

Today’s father is Big Brother, he knows best, and he is keeping it to himself. Because he said so.

Vasiliki Farmaki
Vasiliki Farmaki
1 year ago

THANK YOU a lot, those have already signed up to support my petition below. I have the 5 supporters and now they will check and move to the next stage. https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/581812/sponsors/new?token=iV4sLxnpE-we0y88vKma

Samir Zulfiquar
Samir Zulfiquar
1 year ago

Calling them “paternalistic” is being to generous. It implies they are motivated by good intentions to begin with.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
1 year ago

“In other words the only protection against serious disease is health.”
Exactly! Who’d have thought it eh?