Conservative Care Services Minister Paul Burstow was replaced by a fresh Savoy cabbage today after snubbing the annual Pensioners Parliament in Blackpool.
The leafy vegetable stood in for the no-show Tory as more than 1,000 delegates from across the country recounted Britain's woeful record of care for the elderly.
National Pensioners Convention organisers mocked up the last-minute replacement - labelled the "minister for insults" - after Mr Burstow pulled out of a panel discussion on social care one working day before the event began.
The Morning Star understands Mr Burstow has not attended any of the annual parliaments since his appointment in May 2010, but had told a Sutton rally in October that he "strongly endorsed the convention's new 'dignity code.'
"This is an excellent docuv ment and I look forward to working with the (convention) to publicise it," he claimed two years ago.
Yet Mr Burstow was nowhere to be seen at today's panel to discuss the code's application.
His press office told reporters that he had been unavoidably called away on parliamentary business.
But convention president Frank Cooper rejected the explanation, saying that parliamentary business was laid out at least two weeks in advance.
"Half-past four on a Friday afternoon as we're about to leave for conference is pretty poor," he added.
The cabbage declined to comment.
But those speakers present described an overstretched health system with "shocking" lapses of care.
The Health Services Ombudsman's Carole Auchterlonie said a survey of 1,300 elderly patients complaints last year had uncovered cases all the more shocking because it's about basic failing of care.
In one case a man admitted with stomach cancer had been left alone and under-medicated for hours, so dehydrated that he could not speak or swallow.
He died three days after his discharge.
In another case staff had switched off a man's ventilator against his wife and daughter's wishes while the pair were out of the room telephoning his sons.
And in another a woman's family learned that she had spent 13 weeks on her ward without a shower or bath.
Ms Auchterlonie said that many hospitals had taken their criticisms on board, with some trusts appointing nurses as "older people's champions."
But the stories she described were still not isolated cases.
"I wish they were," she said.