(In the first part of a series of alternative manifesto ideas, Karen Harradine sets out her ideas on healthcare)
My friend was beautiful, intelligent and kind. In the spring of 2015 she experienced crippling stomach pains. Her symptoms were repeatedly dismissed by various GPs as viruses, IBS or stress. Three months later my friend died from ovarian cancer. She was only 43, the same age my sister was when she died of mouth cancer nine months earlier. If only they had seen competent GPs then they would probably still be alive. But a decent GP is a rarity in the National Health Service (NHS).
Unfortunately, these tragedies occur way too often because spineless politicians continue to inflict the ghastly NHS on us. Ignore the wailing about cuts and austerity. The reality is that the health budget comprises the second largest government spend, surpassed only by social protection. From 2017-2018 the NHS will receive £149 billion. In comparison only £48 billion will be allocated to defence.
Despite this massive public expenditure, the NHS no longer functions as a competent healthcare provider to British citizens. Like the American legal system, it has mutated into an industry and is no longer the service it was intended to be. The NHS does very little else except enrich management consultants, shore up political virtue-signalling and exasperate most of us.
The narrative that the government is heartless if it does not provide free healthcare for all shows no sign of abating. The welfare state, of which the NHS is part, has turned too many Britons into whining children. This is uncomfortable for an immigrant like myself - who has always admired the UK - to witness.
The NHS is in its death throes. It is now nothing more than a political football, constantly kicked around by politicians while millions of UK citizens suffer needlessly from its incompetence, unaccountable surgeons, rude consultants, inept GPs, long waiting lists and dirty hospitals. I have lived on four continents in my almost 50 years of life. I have yet to hear anyone, other than the British, claim that the NHS is the envy of the world. This is a delusional myth - a parable told as part of the ridiculous beautification of a failing and diabolical healthcare system in which nurses are worshipped as saints and doctors as gods. Revering the NHS like a religion only serves to harm the sick.
A complete change of thinking is needed. We are not the USSR. The socialist concept that one size fits all is ludicrous, especially when applied to our medical needs. A globalised attitude to healthcare is wonderful for those who are well or can afford the very expensive and limited range of private medical aid options in the UK. But for the rest of us with health issues, like myself who is caught in the living death of ME/CFS, the NHS impairs far more than it helps. Barely any competition for healthcare provision exists, so the NHS has no incentive to improve.
The NHS is bankrupting the government. Taxpayers can no longer afford to finance medical costs stemming from lifestyle diseases. Uncontrolled immigration and increased life spans are also placing unprecedented pressure onto the NHS. But one of the biggest drains on its resources is health tourism. I have lived in and visited many countries. Whenever I needed to see a doctor overseas I had to show my passport and pay before I was even let through the door - regardless of whether it was a government or private service. Asking a non-citizen to pay for their medical costs is not a human rights infringement. The real infringement is on the UK taxpayer. Anyone who can afford to visit the UK as a tourist can also afford their own travel insurance.
From April onwards the NHS is required to charge overseas patients for non-urgent treatment. We have heard very little on how effective this policy is. I suspect not very. And surely overseas visitors should be charged for emergency medical services as well. We really need to shake off this idea that paying for health care is a crime against humanity – otherwise we will continue to be inflicted by the awful failings of the NHS.
We don’t want to imitate the US medical system where illness can be potentially ruinous. But we need a balance. The UK desperately needs a competent and efficient two-tier medical system. This truly would be a compassionate act. Privatisation is not a dirty word. And neither is government.
Malaysia, a much poorer country than the UK, has an effective two-tier healthcare system, partly comprised of a basic government health service funded by taxpayers. But Malaysians can also opt to go private far more easily than we can. Their survival rates, quality and access to healthcare far surpass ours. The viable option of private medical aid significantly reduces pressures on their public health service.
We should have the same options in the UK. The Labour Party foolishly wants to hike up taxes on private medical insurance - thereby punishing us for wanting a choice.
This is shortsighted. Private medical aid schemes should be encouraged. Increased competition will lower the costs of these schemes - making them an affordable and feasible option for more of us. This means that fewer of us will need to use the NHS, thereby freeing up its resources for those who really require them. The government could then divert some its exorbitant healthcare funding to pensions and education.
My own illness has been hampered by the lack of a viable two-tier healthcare system. I have felt desperation in wanting to be well but knowing that I had no choice but to rely on the atrocious NHS. I would have done anything to have had competent medical care at the onset of my ME/CFS. This would have aided my recovery but I could not afford the extravagant cost of UK private care. So I had no choice but to depend on the NHS and I have suffered because of it.
The time has come to execute the outdated NHS and let a more streamlined, functional and sensible reincarnation take its place. Will Theresa May be brave enough to do this and help millions of British citizens suffering pointlessly from such a useless, wasteful and inadequate healthcare system? After all a quick death is better than a slow death. The UK urgently needs a viable two-tier healthcare system. It can no longer afford a singular one endlessly swallowing taxpayers’ money down its gaping mouth.