Saturday, September 25, 2021
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How the NHS went off its trolley

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OUR Prime Minister steps forward with careless alacrity and in one day breaks two election pledges – that he would not raise taxes and would keep the triple lock on pensions – so he can increase spending on social care. When I heard this news on Tuesday, I realised that I had been hanging on by gossamer and wishful thinking for years. But that’s it and I’m off. I can’t imagine voting Conservative again – which means that there is no party I can support, and I have been effectually disenfranchised. In the UK in 2021, we have a socialist party playing pretend opposition to a socialist government. So my vote would be as meaningless as an editorial in the Guardian or regrettably, under our new res publica, an editorial in the Daily Telegraph.

This is a bereavement for, apart from a mercifully brief period as a Fabian socialist when I was a child, I have been a lifelong Tory. But let me clear up the inevitable misunderstanding: by Tory, I don’t mean monetarism, market forces and the blather of the counting house as featured in the Economist. No, I look to Dr Johnson’s Dictionary:

Tory: One who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the Church of England.

That is an elegant shorthand for one who believes in – that’s me – the monarchy, the principle of continuity embodied in the ownership of land, a sovereign parliament, a standing army, the judiciary of the Lords temporal and magistrates and the other national institutions which uphold the rule of law. And I believe all these things under God.

I might have more to say about all these things at a future date, but today let me start with God, and here we are unfortunate. For the country no longer believes in God. Instead, we have given ourselves over to idols, and to one idol in particular: that Great Moloch the NHS, housed in a towering bureaucratic ziggurat and sustained in its existence by the endless dissipation of the nation’s wealth – most of which is taxes coughed up by low-paid workers.

And where does all our wealth end up? Well, despite a significant increase in the population, and a consequent rise in the number of patients, the money certainly isn’t going on the provision of beds. There were 460,000 available beds in the NHS in 1948. Shockingly, barely credibly, today there are only 129,000.

Between 2003 and 2013 the number of hospital beds in England fell by 30 per cent from 3.7 per thousand of population to 2.6. In comparison, France has 6 beds per thousand of population and Germany has 8. Even these shocking figures don’t tell the whole truth, for they are supplied by the Department of Health (DoH); and DoH propagandists for the NHS operate with some cloud cuckoo definitions of what counts as a bed. For example, the DoH declares: ‘A couch or trolley should be considered as a hospital bed provided it is used regularly to permit a patient to lie down rather than for merely examination or transport.’

So, according to Moloch, many of those patients awaiting urgent care are languishing on trolleys in draughty corridors, stockrooms and other literally inhospitable locations. They will, I’m sure, be delighted to know that really they are accommodated in a comfy bed!
 

Meanwhile, the number of senior managers has increased from about 500 in the 1970s to 43,000 today. So look upon their works and despair – that is if you can make your way through the ranks of top-of-the-range cars in the bureaucrats’ car parks. And, of course, the administrators of this incompetent Babel are paid more than the doctors and nurses.

The Guardian’s weekly public-sector jobs supplement is regularly a hundred pages long, providing an advertising revenue which, together with the equally gargantuan educational jobs supplement, sustains in existence an otherwise financially unviable newspaper. Here I read in the public sector jobs supplement an advertisement for ‘A part-time Assistant Director of Equality and Diversity at the Central Manchester University Hospitals. Salary £46,625-£57,640.’

Gosh, you must have to work hard to earn all that cash! I wonder what the Assistant Director does all day? Helpfully, the Guardian advert told us: ‘You’ll look to continually develop (sic) programmes that deliver our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy which sets out a powerful vision: valuing the voices of diverse people to be the best we can. It’s a chance to lead and champion the development and delivery of all aspects of our equality and diversity work. This senior role will see you deputising for the Associate Director of Inclusion and Community . . . including working with external partners to advocate for the areas of Access, Community Partnership and Equality. You’ll also establish strong monitoring arrangements so we can track our progress.’

They call this gold-plated shambles the envy of the world. They stand on their Thursday evening doorsteps and clap for this claptrap. It is this congeries of futility which we are constantly hectored into trying to save by agreeing to be locked up for months on end.

The NHS Moloch is not our only god. There is a great pantheon of them. One day, if I’m allowed, I’ll tell you of the Great Baal who represents our universities and schools.

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

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