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HomeNewsThere’s no cure for this myopia over the NHS

There’s no cure for this myopia over the NHS


Having been admitted to Lewisham Hospital A&E after falling ill while flying from the US, broadcaster Richard Bacon reacted as would any apprehensive emergency patient: he sent a tweet which cursed the ‘ideologically driven politicians who have messed up America’s healthcare system’.

Eleven days later, Bacon woke from a medically induced coma to inform his Twitter followers: ‘I didn’t die because I’m on the NHS. #VivaTheNHS.’

Bacon’s recovery is welcome news and it is understandable he should wish to applaud the treatment which made it possible. However, it is odd that, rather than laud the medical staff whom he believes saved his life, Bacon instinctively should commend the monolith that is the NHS, as though his saviour were the system itself rather than the trained individuals working within it.

‘I didn’t die because I’m on the NHS’ implies inherent superiority and insinuates that other countries’ systems of healthcare would have been less likely to keep him alive, which clearly is nonsense. This might seem an over-extrapolation from what presumably were a few hurried tweets, except that the same sentiment is commonly expressed by survivors who thank the NHS for their continued existence as though the organisation is a benign deity.

During a recent episode of Radio 4’s Moral Maze which coincided with the NHS’s seventieth anniversary, Anglican priest and Leftist commentator Giles Fraser did at least caution against such worship, describing the health service as a ‘bad replacement for religion’. Nevertheless, Fraser – who last year underwent a quadruple heart bypass – credits the NHS with saving his life and in his opening sentence extolled the fact that ‘no one asked me for my credit card in the ambulance’ – sophistry which fellow panellist Michael Portillo rightly scorned as ‘introducing a fantasy that [this happens] in every other country’.

Giles Fraser is one of many for whom the NHS is ‘not just economics and outcomes’, which he places below ‘national togetherness’ and ‘the way our society expresses care for each other’. For guest witness Dr Brian Fisher, health outcomes seem less important than the NHS being acclaimed ‘the most equitable health system in the world’. Coming from the vice-president of a pressure group scarily titled the Socialist Health Association, his collectivist priority is unsurprising.

Asked by host Michael Buerk: ‘Are the lofty ideals of equality and social justice worth the lives of all the cancer patients and heart attack victims who would still be around if they were in Germany or Belgium?’ the socialist doctor airily dismissed the question as ‘not the equation we need to be looking at all’.

Like Dr Fisher, those who wish to preserve in aspic the NHS, consciously or not, prioritise equality over outcomes, a myopia which prompted Portillo to lament how ‘we can’t borrow ideas from abroad for things that work’. And whereas its acolytes portray the NHS as being uniquely compassionate, Portillo rightly noted that ‘like many nationalised industries, [the NHS] can be wasteful and can unreasonably close ranks to defend malpractice in preference to serving patients’.

A private healthcare organisation which had presided over the hospital scandals at, among others, Gosport, Stafford and Bristol Royal Infirmary, would long ago have been closed down. But whereas a tragic event such as Grenfell Tower immediately was politicised – ‘social murder’ being the instant verdict of John McDonnell, putative Chancellor of the Exchequer – there is no similar appetite to expose rum goings-on within the NHS, nor to challenge its complacent culture. Only a few weeks have passed since the mass ‘life-shortening’ at Gosport War Memorial Hospital became public knowledge, yet already the story has faded from consciousness, having been an unwanted distraction from the more important matter of the BBC network uncritically celebrating 70 years of our national treasure.

Even now, whenever there is revealed to have been a flagrant disregard for patients within the NHS, seldom is it long before the Left contextualises the problem as ‘stressed staff’ and ‘Tory cuts’. In contrast to the Left’s nonchalance over failings within the health service, when Jeremy Hunt recently moved from being Health Secretary he had, if one were to believe the Twittersphere, not only spent the past six years selling off the NHS and ridding Europe’s largest employer of its doctors and nurses, he apparently was also complicit in 120,000 ‘economic murders’ which a professor at Cambridge University last year claimed had resulted from so-called austerity since 2010. One might be duped into thinking that the office of the Foreign Secretary is now occupied by a strange hybrid of Del Boy and Harold Shipman.

Apart from mavericks such as writers for TCW, one of the few voices recently granted airtime to express an alternative, and more sober, view of the NHS and its failings has been the indomitable Kate Andrews of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Consistently arguing that health outcomes in the UK will improve only through a system of social insurance of the sort in place throughout mainland Europe, Andrews’s commonsense views on improving healthcare tend to be derided simply because of her transatlantic accent – even though neither she nor anyone else seriously advocates that Britain adopt the American system.

With politicians terrified to tackle the taxpayer-funded model, the NHS will instead be left to limp along, absorbing ever more public money, such as its latest £20billion shower, like water on sand. And too many people will remain overly grateful for the service being received from a healthcare system which incorrectly is regarded as free, which mistakenly is held to be incomparably compassionate and which, like Richard at Lewisham Hospital, erroneously the public believes singularly can save their bacon.

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Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver is an accountant who lives in East Lothian.

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