Today I wish to contrast the way politicians and some in the press respond to bad conduct in banking and in healthcare. It seems to me that we overdo the allegations and the expression of revulsion when bad bankers are revealed, whilst taking an altogether more relaxed attitude to healthcare errors.
Barclays has recently been fined £290 million. It has admitted that some traders acted in a way designed to promote the bank’s and their own personal interests which sought to distort an interest rate in the markets. The traders have all been fired and are the subject of regulatory and criminal investigation to see if further action should be taken against any of them under the law.
A general hue and cry has led to the resignation of the CEO and the COO. The bank is the butt end of endless bad comment and jokes, and the preferred subject for many a Parliamentary debate and enquiry.
Meanwhile Glaxo Smith Kline has just been fined $3000 million by the US authorities. They have admitted to selling drugs to people under the age of 18 when not allowed to do so by the regulators, to offering payments to doctors to help promote these drugs, to not setting out all the side effects of the drugs, making claims about the favourable impact of the drugs on conditions other than the one for which they were licenced and other regulatory infringements and bad practice. Some of the US journalism about the consequences of their poor practice is worrying, as individuals bring their own cases setting out what happened to them or their loved ones from taking Paxil or Wellbrutin.
The company has apologised. Politicians and press have accepted that mistakes can occur in the largest of companies. There is no demand for the replacement of any of the top executives, no witch hunt against the sales teams involved in the errors. There have been no debates in the Commons, no demand for Parliamentary enquiries, no show trials of the top executives. I am not calling for a witch hunt either. I am merely asking why we take this grown up approach to serious errors with a drugs company, and yet take such a different view with a private sector bank that managed to avoid requiring large injections of taxpayer cash in 2008?
Errors and malpractice by bankers can result in higher charges or losses of money for clients. Errors or malpracice in health can have far more serious personal consequences.