Monday, November 30, 2020
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Reader’s Comment: We must all carry on stuffing our money into the bloated beast of the NHS

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In response to, Karen Harradine: Terminate the atrocious, socialist NHS, paul parameter wrote:

When I saw this headline, “Terminate the atrocious, socialist NHS”, I nearly fell off my chair. Karen Harradine wanting to slaughter the holy bovine that has been worshipped as untouchable for the last 70 years? Nothing short of blasphemy, heresy, insanity, and any other expression of outraged horror you can think of. Go to the naughty step, Karen, kneel and pray for forgiveness for your sins as you pour ashes on your head.

But she is uncomfortably close to being right. The NHS suffers from the same malaise that afflicts all massive state monopolies or near-monopolies: huge bureaucracies with no effective accountability, wedded to the certainty that nobody needs to bother too much, work too hard or meet any great standard, because it is almost impossible to be sacked, and there will always be a bottomless pit of taxpayers’ money available to fund it all. Plus in this case, the added bonus of being able to pose as heroes and heroines in an absolutely vital industry that everyone supposedly loves and is above criticism.

The NHS is a huge mixed bag. It contains thousands of dedicated, honest, hard-working and committed individuals, who save lives and relieve pain and distress. It also contains thousands of wasters who do the minimum to get by, who would rather be somewhere else, and whose main motivation is to clock watch until it is time to collect their next pay packet.

This is not random insulting. My wife worked in the NHS for many years and saw it all. Every day, she would come home with a new story of inefficiency, of stupidity, of wasted money, of hopeless employees who caused more work than they ever performed, of chronically bad management and of creaking, outdated systems that everyone knew were not working, but nobody could do anything about. I met some of the people she had to work with, and found myself agreeing with her opinions. Some of them should have simply been sacked because they were truly useless and dragged everyone else down. But there they were, still trundling along happily with a soft job for life just as long as they didn’t actually kill anyone or burn the place down. But this is inevitable: if you employ huge numbers in a nationalised industry, they will always be a mixed bag of good and bad.

Over the years, I also have watched how additional functions and purposes have gradually crept into and taken over the NHS agenda. If you think the purpose of the NHS is to take care of the nation’s health, nothing less and nothing more, think again. I can add at least two others that have nothing to do with improving anyone’s health but are vastly damaging: these are to soak up unemployment by inventing unnecessary jobs for those who could not get work anywhere else; and to act as a propaganda device for governments. 

We see the latter at work at every election: a bidding war between the parties to see who can promise the greatest increase in spending and the bigger number of new doctors and nurses that are always coming our way – but somehow never seem to arrive, or if they do, they do not make anything better. 

Every government increases spending on the health service by “more than inflation”; and every government presides over crisis after crisis. Scarcely a week goes by without another one hitting the headlines, whoever is in power. I sometimes think we ought to rename it as “NHS in crisis” because that is its usual state. But still, we must all carry on worshipping and stuffing money into this crippled, bloated, bleeding, bellowing beast as it struggles to keep itself upright.

The reality is that there will never be enough money to fund the NHS all the while it seeks the impossible aim of making us all healthy and disease free, and does so with a captive clientele of millions of people (plus the free riders from outside the UK). It is not fit for that purpose; either the purpose has to change, or something better needs to be found. This is the first step, to get agreement that it cannot go on like this. But alas, all I see from our political parties is the old mantra that this “envy of the world” must be sustained in its current form by yet more billions of taxpayers’ money that will magically solve all its problems.

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