Anger the priests and priestesses of our modern day NHS cult at your peril…
It takes some degree of courage to publicly speak out against the National Health Service, the unceasing praise and glorification of which has become the closest thing secular Britain has to a national religion.
In fact, one of the only things capable of jogging people out of their NHS-worshipping trance is bitter personal experience. And few experiences can be more bitter and heart-wrenching than that experienced by Martin Bailey, a fellow contributor to Conservatives for Liberty.
Martin Bailey’s grandmother died an awful and unnecessary death in November 2007, one of the victims of the death house that was Mid Staffs Hospital. His mother, moved to action by what happened, became a vocal and active campaigner for patient safety and NHS transparency, eventually being awarded a CBE for her efforts.
Sadly, drawing attention to the flaws and shortcomings of the NHS exacts fearsome retribution. But unlike whistleblowers drawing attention to failings in other industries or sectors, the retribution meted out to NHS critics comes not only from the formal hierarchy within the NHS, but also from medical professionals and members of the public who have been hypnotised into a state of blind devotion to our nationalised health service.
From the very beginning she has faced denial, disbelief and open hostility – such is the lot of anyone who dares to question the eternal virtue of ‘Mother NHS’. She has been hounded in the street, trolled viciously and incessantly online by both the general public and medical professionals, suffered hundreds of nuisance callers and been spat at in the supermarket. This November it will be nine years since my Nan’s death and my mother still has to clean faeces and graffiti off her gravestone.
Such is the level of devotion to the NHS, such is the illogical loyalty that both staff and public feel towards it that any criticism is brutally suppressed. This defence mechanism is ingrained into its very nature. Every story in the press that is anything but a paean of praise is immediately written off as right wing propaganda, part of the mainstream media conspiracy rather than the general public’s right to a transparent and reflective service.
When the Healthcare Commission published its initial report into Mid Staffs the trust’s first response was not to rectify the problems but to spend £1,000,000 commissioning Birmingham University to compile a rebuttal.
One million pounds! One million pounds that could have been spent on doctors and nurses, crutches and casts, Scalpels and forceps. Even a new coffee machine in the canteen would have been a better deal for the public than a study that refuted the claims of another Taxpayer-funded body, in turn making it even more difficult to highlight poor care through the haze of institutional ambivalence.
This is what some of the kind, virtuous people who Love Our NHS do – they “protect” the institution they love by defacing the grave of an innocent woman with graffiti and faeces. Many more will just happily imply that you are a heartless monster lacking in compassion, simply for daring to criticise one particular (and unreplicated anywhere else in the world) healthcare delivery model.
We should not be surprised. The British public is fed a constant diet of pro-NHS propaganda, from politicians, campaign groups and the health service itself. Like any large organisation – and the NHS is the fifth largest employer on the planet – the NHS has an independent life of its own, and moves to protect and defend what it considers to be its own interests (which are not always one and the same with the interests of patients). And it very much suits the purposes of the NHS to have millions of people childishly painting its logo on their faces, wearing it on t-shirts, proclaiming its glory on social media, buying schmaltzy NHS-themed Christmas songs and otherwise providing the kind of public lobbying which would cost any other organisation millions of pounds.
Martin Bailey picks up on this point about how we place the NHS, rather than then needs of the patient, at the centre of our healthcare debate:
Healthcare should be about the patient… and nothing more. While we have a venerated NHS this is impossible. The institution always comes first. It is too monolithic, too omnipotent for its identity ever to be subordinated to the needs of those it serves. In its current guise there will always be fanatics who will never admit to shortcomings no matter what evidence is put in front of them, ‘NHS Daesh’ who will never allow the truth to censure their ideology. In this culture true patient-centred care might as well be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Countries with systems based on universal health insurance do not experience the same problems. In France, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and Japan healthcare is not politicised and treatment is widely regarded as superior. An insurance based system healthcare costs as much as it needs to and is not constrained by the political tennis match that sees budgets ebb and flow, forcing the NHS into a permanent state of inadequacy, struggling to deliver 21st century services through a process of rationing that has changed little since the 1950s.
And makes this call to conservatives:
Conservatives have traditionally been coy on the topic for fear of reprisals at the ballot box, only daring to mention the dreaded ‘P’ word amongst close friends behind firmly closed doors. But our reticence plays into Labour’s hands, easily construed as a hidden agenda. The left has owned the narrative on healthcare for far too long and it is time we had the courage of our convictions to speak freely and openly about the benefits of privatised healthcare.
So the next time a colleague starts talking about how wonderful the NHS is, don’t stare at your shoes, mumble and change the subject. Speak up, speak out and fly the flag proudly for the death of the NHS.
A noble aspiration, but for as long as the Conservative Party is in the hands of David Cameron and George Osborne, nothing much will change. Both men are carbon copies of Tony Blair, only with blue ties rather than red, and so the mealy-mouthed praise of the NHS will continue – not that this will stop Labour from screaming hysterically about the dismantling of Our NHS.
But Bailey is absolutely right – anybody who cares about the future of healthcare in Britain must immediately disenthral themselves from the Cult of the NHS and encourage others to do the same. This has nothing to do with being a hardcore libertarian or hating doctors and nurses. This is about applying the same unsentimental standards of objectivity to our analysis of healthcare as we do to any other industry or government service. It is about having the humility to learn from others, the courage to confront mistakes and the clarity of mind to focus at all times on the patient rather than the organisation.
In other words, it is not going to happen for at least another generation. And how many more Mid Staffs type scandals will have occurred by the time necessity finally forces us to confront reality and act?
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