By reflexively worshipping the NHS, vilifying people who don’t and rewarding politicians who tell us only what we want to hear, the junior doctors’ strike – and everything else wrong with the health service – is our fault, and ours alone
Who is to blame for the NHS junior doctors’ strike?
Is it heartless Jeremy Hunt, that doctor-hating, treatment-denying Conservative villain at the Department of Health? Is it the Evil Tories in general, with their single-minded obsession (mysteriously never realised despite all their accumulated years in power) with privatising and destroying Our Precious NHS? And if not them, who could it be? The capitalists? The bankers? Katie Hopkins?
Surely anyone and everyone is to blame, apart from ourselves.We love Our NHS. We are good people who believe that healthcare free at the point of use is one of the fundamental rights of citizenship. We stick up for the NHS at every turn, demanding that politicians pay obsequious lip service to the organisation every time they run for office. We’ll happily slap the NHS logo on our Facebook profile picture, paint it on our faces, wear it on a badge, lapel pin or t-shirt. You name it, we’ll do it to virtue-signal the love we have for Our NHS.
And that, right there, is the problem. Not Jeremy Hunt, not the Evil Tories, not Katie Hopkins. Us.
We don’t want elected officials who take a hard, uncompromising look at changes in medical treatments, life expectancies, the public finances and best practice from overseas to continually assess whether the NHS – that uniquely British solution to healthcare coverage – is still fit for purpose in the twenty-first century, and what changes may be beneficial or necessary.
We don’t want elected officials who tell us that difficult decisions might have to be made – that providing the latest treatments to an ageing, fattening population will cost all of us more in taxes, require radical overhaul of the NHS model, or both. We want our politicians to find the money to provide a world-class health service without disrupting other areas of public spending, or the fatness of our own wallets.
And we certainly don’t want elected officials who do anything to upset the NHS-Industrial Complex – that vast network of people, organisations and vested interests who are first to squeal and protest (always in the name of “public safety”) when their own livelihoods or ways of working are threatened. Like children listening to a trusted school teacher, we innocently take the words of such people as gospel.
Of course, this situation is quite unsustainable. And when any one element of this vast human bureaucracy reaches breaking point – whether that is manifested in industrial action, hospital death scandals or longer waiting lists – we will look for anyone to blame and attack for the fact that these problems have gone unaddressed. Anyone other than ourselves.
[..] there is a more serious way in which the public is to blame for the sickness of the health service. The electorate that notionally adores “our NHS” and propels a saccharine song by health workers to the top of the Christmas charts shows remarkably little willingness to pay more in tax towards what remains a relatively cheap system. Without extra money and facing ever wider and wrinklier patients, the NHS must tighten its belt by £30 billion ($43 billion), or about one-fifth, by 2020. It is in this context that Mr Hunt is trying to expand services to evenings and weekends. Pity the well meaning health secretary, pity the hardworking doctors—and blame the sentimental but hypocritical British public.
The famous maxim says that people get the politicians and leaders that they deserve. Well, the same can be said for healthcare, too. We refuse to look difficult truths in the eye, preferring to ignore them in the risible hope that a healthcare system built in 1948 can still be fit for purpose in 2016, if only we pump a bit more money into it. And a bit more. And a bit more again.
We deserve the NHS we currently have, with its air of permanent crisis, in all its faded glory. It is the sum total of all our misplaced pride, boastfulness, smugness, ignorance, fear of change, intellectual laziness and lack of vision.
We have become self-entitled public service consumers rather than thinking citizens, demanding easy answers and instant results from our elected leaders, while rewarding all of the wrong behaviours when it comes to healthcare policymaking.
We have become the kind of intellectually dull society that will happily produce a cheesy Christmas hymn to the NHS and then propel it to Number 1 in the charts, but prefers to sit and vegetate in front of Britain’s Strictly Come Bake-off On Ice rather than question whether the organisation we were just singing about is fundamentally fit for purpose.
On this rare occasion, the Economist’s editorial line is quite correct. When it comes to the failings and shortcomings of the NHS, the government, the health secretary of the day and individual NHS staff are comparatively blameless.
It is we, the British people, who are most at fault for singing worshipful hymns of praise to a healthcare system we will neither properly fund, nor meaningfully reform.
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