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Heretical thoughts on the NHS


LORD Norman Warner, a former Labour health minister, once suggested that we all pay a £10-per-month membership fee to save the NHS from financial catastrophe.The suggestion, in the Guardian, provoked shrieks from the metro-political elite who predicted this would mean an end to free health care. But ‘free health care’ is just a lying slogan. We all pay massively for the failed, neglectful (and sometimes murderous) NHS through taxes and national insurance. Why? Because, say the propagandists of the corporate state, ‘the NHS is the envy of the world’. The laughing-stock of the world, more like, and a national disgrace.

There was a time when the health service was admired: in the 1940s and 50s it was a lean organisation run with military efficiency. The deterioration began in the 1960s when the NHS embarked upon its relentless bureaucratisation. We all know what always happens to socialist bureaucracies, especially in the public services: there comes a point when they no longer exist for the benefit of those they were appointed to serve, but for the ever-expanding nomenklatura of highly paid bureaucrats and the highly unionised people who are employed in it. Though ‘employed’ is not the right word, suggesting as it does that staff are put to some useful purpose.

According to the Statista website there were 33,000 senior NHS managers in 2020. That’s just the senior managers, mind you. Add to that the assorted multitude of hangers-on, box-tickers and jobsworths appointed by a statist ideology which is always dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good. And that’s the root of it: socialism, for all its vile sentimentality, replaces heart with system. Why do socialist governments – and we are all socialists now, including Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak – do this? Not because they care but because they love to be in charge and control.

Labour used to be a workers’ party. Now it has decayed and diseased itself into a sullen politburo. The ‘intelligentsia’ support it because so many of them make a good living out of it. And the big lie is that public health is so important that it must not be left to private individuals and groups.

It was not always so. The truth is the very opposite. The rot started in 1948. Things were better before the creation of the NHS. Just look at the signature vocabulary of health care: nurses called ‘sisters’, hospitals named after saints, ‘hospital’ and ‘hospice’ themselves creations of medieval Christianity. But now that most excellent gift, charity, must be improved upon by bureaucratic diktat.

I should like to quote James Bartholomew, author of The Welfare State We’re In, who understands the details of all this better than anyone:‘Many people would think it quite impossible that a medical system worthy of the name could possibly be based to a significant degree on charitable donations and unpaid work. The pre-NHS system was not based just on that, but, before 1948, charity was indeed a major part of it. Think of the major London teaching hospitals of today, such as Guy’s and St Bart’s. Every one was set up prior to the NHS. Every one was a charitable – or voluntary – hospital, set up specifically to treat anyone, whether they could afford it or not.

‘Charitable giving came from all sorts of people, those of modest means as well as the rich. Celebrities such as Handel and Reynolds contributed to earlier hospitals. The Royal Family was instrumental in stimulating charity, notably through the King’s Fund, which was established by Edward VII. There were Sunday collections in churches and Saturday collections in workplaces. Increasingly, people contributed to regular hospital care plans. In 1938, 52 per cent of the income of the voluntary sector came from paying patients and the proportion was rising fast. There were also the municipal hospitals, in which local people took some pride.

‘But the voluntary hospitals were gaining in importance as the 20th century progressed. By 1936, the voluntary hospitals took 60 per cent of those requiring acute care. British medicine was widely admired around the world. It was a leader in medical innovation, its greatest triumph being the discovery and development of penicillin. This was just in time to save thousands of lives during the liberation of Europe and subsequently has saved millions of lives around the world.

‘Healthcare in Britain was very substantial and impressive prior to 1948. Even the Labour Party pamphlet, which recommended a National Service for Health in 1943, could find little to criticise. There is mention of only one waiting list, for rheumatic diseases. That implies that there were no waiting lists for all the other specialties and no waiting lists to see consultants. There was no mention of any shortage of doctors (which is so chronic now) or, indeed, of nurses. There was no complaint either, about the quality of care.’

Why, then, was this system thrown out, to be replaced by a socialist model? Because, said the Labour pamphlet, a good medical service should be planned as a whole. In other words, the intention for the NHS from the first was to establish socialist central control.

The true indication of our descent into the totalitarian state is that discussion of these matters has become impossible. So that what I have just written is an example of Orwellian thought crime.

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Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen is a Church of England clergyman, writer and broadcaster

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