NOT only is it sacrilegious to criticise ‘Our NHS’, failing to exalt it is also now a heresy.
Last week a report by Kristian Niemietz, Head of Political Economy at the Institute of Economic Affairs (‘the UK’s original free-market think-tank’), impiously examined some of the mythology arising from the coronavirus crisis. The fallacies include the Leftist lore that ‘the NHS has been the star performer of the pandemic and we should be more grateful than ever for having it’.
German-born Dr Niemietz dared to imagine a Britain in which the NHS had been disestablished. Speculating upon how the nation might have fared under one of the many insurance-based healthcare systems which are successful throughout the developed world, the Deutsche dissenter blasphemed (page 31): ‘There is no guarantee that this would have served the UK better during the pandemic, but there is certainly no reason to believe that it would have done any worse. There is nothing special about the NHS, neither during this pandemic, nor at any other time.’
From a champion of free-market solutions, that assessment of our statist health service is unusually neutral and noncommittal. For the Left, however, anything less than a hosanna to the NHS is an insult to their idol.
The overwrought reactions of Labour frontbenchers David Lammy and Angela Rayner were in response to that mild admonishment of the NHS as ‘nothing special’. In which case, the distressed duo might themselves have required medical assistance had they heard his IEA colleague Annabel Denham, whose trenchant criticism of the NHS enlivened last Monday’s edition of BBC’s Politics Live, which can be viewed here.
Having paid obligatory tribute to the ‘heroic efforts of the doctors and nurses on the front line’, Denham lamented that those mettlesome medics are ‘trapped in a failed system’. Though a lone voice on the show, she persisted: ‘You can’t deny that the NHS is a collapsing, buckling system that needs fundamental reform. Were we able to reform it, perhaps we would have healthcare outcomes similar to other developed nations.’
Fat chance of the UK adopting practices which are successful elsewhere when even the Conservative MP on the panel, Damian Collins, takes fright at the very suggestion: ‘I find that description quite offensive given the extraordinary effort the NHS has made over the last year to serve the needs of the nation.’
The NHS, Collins asserted, has ‘kept all of us and society from collapse’, as if the only alternative is no healthcare at all. Depressingly, this and similar opinions from a so-called Conservative were indistinguishable from those of Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff: ‘In a pandemic it’s been a huge advantage to have a universal healthcare system where people aren’t frightened of going to the doctor.’
Except that the health service’s concentration on Covid has meant that for many worried people ‘going to the doctor’ over the past year has been a non-starter. Annabel Denham asked how the NHS can be blameless when ‘ultimately we did have one of the worst excess death tolls over the course of 2020 as a result of this pandemic’. Hinsliff naturally ascribes the mortality to ‘failings of governance and failings of policy; I’m not sure what failings within the NHS you can identify’.
One obvious fault of the NHS which Denham could have highlighted, but didn’t, is the alarming extent to which non-Covid admissions have been infected with coronavirus while in hospitals. Conveniently for the reputation of the NHS, there is no precise data for nosocomial (originating in hospital) transmissions in England, and earlier estimates ranged from at least 10 per cent to more than 20 per cent of coronavirus cases in hospital having been infected while they were inpatients.
However, last week the Telegraph ran the eye-catching revelation that ‘Up to 40 per cent of first wave Covid cases could have been caught in hospitals’. This headline refers to the least conservative assessment of newly released data and there is not a definitive answer; nonetheless, in England the rate of hospital acquired infections appears to have been significantly greater than previously supposed.
From north of border, actual and worsening figures appeared on the front page of yesterday’s Scotland on Sunday, which announced ‘another record week of infections on hospital wards . . . 244 patients definitely caught Covid-19 while in hospital and a further 114 were probably infected’.
Up to January 17, there have been almost 3,000 definite instances; including probable and suspected cases, total nosocomial transmissions in Scotland exceed 5,000. The public is under orders to protect the NHS, but is increasingly at risk from it.
Sadly, one such casualty is the father of Cabinet Minister Grant Shapps. Last week the Transport Secretary revealed during a TV interview that the 89-year-old is ‘in a Covid ward right now and has been for some time’, though it was two minutes before he added, almost as an afterthought and with extraordinary insouciance, that Covid ‘wasn’t the reason he went into hospital originally but unfortunately did pick it up’.
The original purpose of the interview had been for the Minister to justify the belated policy of forcibly quarantining arrivals from abroad and to defend the draconian punishments proposed for those whom the Government considers to be endangering public health. ‘I think the British public would expect pretty strong action,’ was Shapps’s rationale.
Polling suggests he is correct. Yet a vast number of vulnerable people, such as Grant Shapps’s elderly father, being infected with a life-threatening virus while in hospital care provokes no similar outrage or demand for corrective measures – not when the culprit is our sainted NHS.