NHS Hagiographers Continue To Use Commonwealth Fund Survey As A Shield Of Bias Confirmation

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Britain’s NHS idolaters cling to the Commonwealth Fund’s rosy but skewed assessment of the National Health Service like shipwreck survivors cling to floating wreckage

Brexit is not the only issue which reveals the intellectual limitations and paucity of vision of our politicians. Simply whisper the letters “NHS” and the vast majority of parliamentarians instantly turn into zombies, mindlessly repeating the same worn-out old paeans of praise to centralised government healthcare as though they were under the control of a hypnotist.

There are few better demonstrations of this pathology than yesterday’s segment on BBC This Week, in which Andrew Neil questioned uncritical acceptance of the Commonwealth Fund study (the only survey which routinely rates the NHS favourably) and Kate Andrews of the IEA gamely tried to advance the heretical notion that Britain might do well to learn from other advanced countries when it comes to organising healthcare delivery.

This went down like a lead balloon with bipartisan couch-warmers Anna Soubry and Alan Johnson, whose minds are both welded shut against any information that might suggest that the NHS is not, in fact, the “envy of the world”. Neither host Andrew Neil nor Kate Andrews are able to break through this veil of self-imposed ignorance:

From the segment:

Andrew Neil: Let’s just take the Commonwealth Fund now, because you politicians on both sides, you’re always using it —

Alan Johnson: Well, it’s the only one —

Andrew Neil: No, it’s not. It’s the only one in which the NHS does well, and actually in the Commonwealth Fund it measures inputs, not outputs, not patient care. Indeed, on the patient care – on actual health outcomes – even in the Commonwealth Fund the NHS comes tenth out of eleventh. The Guardian remarked on the Commonwealth Fund: “the only serious black mark against the NHS in Commonwealth Fund research was its poor record of keeping people alive”.

Alan Johnson: Yeah, America came eleventh, by the way, but…

Kate Andrews: Why America? Why not Germany or Belgium or Switzerland or France?

Alan Johnson: Because you came on here and said Trump has a point, are we supposed to talk about Sweden when you said Trump has a point?

Kate Andrews: You’re right, I did say Trump had a point, this whole point is that the NHS is failing, that doesn’t make America any better. Look, I’m from America, I’m not coming over here saying look, adopt the American system”, as I said in the video I wish both countries would look at Switzerland. But let’s stop painting this black and white decision because it’s not about USA versus NHS.

Alan Johnson: The Commonwealth Fund is the only one who measures things like health inequalities and fairness and how it affects the poorest —

Kate Andrews: What is fair about thousands more people in European countries surviving? What is fair about that? What is fair about the fact that 13,000 more people in Germany every year will survive the five most common types of cancer? What is fair about that?

Alan Johnson: [Becoming more incoherent and hysterical with every passing moment] You quote that without saying — as if the NHS was very keen for people to die of cancer —

Kate Andrews: No, of course they’re not, but we can do something about this —

Alan Johnson: One of the biggest problems is early reporting, is people going to their GP, particularly men —

Anna Soubry: Absolutely, it’s the biggest factor.

Kate Andrews: Great. Well, you need access to the GP, don’t you? You need shorter waiting times.

Anna Soubry: We have – please, please, don’t tell me that you don’t have – depends on where you live —

Kate Andrews: The waiting times for this country are appalling compared to their European counterparts.

Anna Soubry: [Disingenuously talking about same-day emergency appointments rather than scheduled GP appointments] Excuse me. Your GP, it depends exactly where you live, because certain GP surgeries like mine, I can see my GP if I want to on the morning that I have – I can ring up and can get in straight away. It depends where you live —

Kate Andrews: That doesn’t sound like a very fair system. It doesn’t sound like a postcode lottery is a very fair system.

Anna Soubry: No, it’s not a postcode lottery.

Kate Andrew: Well he [Alan Johnson] is talking about fairness, and that’s what the NHS is good at, but you were talking about a postcode lottery system. There’s nothing fair about that system, and there’s not a lot that’s very good about it either.

So the NHS is perfect, equality of dismal outcome is preferable to aspiring toward excellence, and if you are one of those people whose deaths would have been prevented by another, superior healthcare system it’s your own stupid fault for not seeing your GP (the unnecessary gatekeeper to practically all NHS care) on time. So say Tory wets and Labour centrists alike.

This is mental subservience to the Cult of the NHS, pure and simple. Every day, the high priests of the NHS surpass themselves in new feats of bias confirmation. One might think that the NHS coming second from last in the rather key metric of keeping people alive might give pause for introspection, but throw up any fact or scenario which suggests that the NHS is inferior and immediately two things happen.

Firstly, up goes the wall of ignorance and denial. Why are you fussing about health outcomes anyway, they splutter. Don’t you know that fairness, ease of access and cost-effectiveness are the only metrics worth considering? And if that doesn’t work, then out comes the good old US/UK false dichotomy, where NHS defenders pretend, quite slanderously really, that anybody who questions the NHS model or expresses an interest in learning from other countries secretly wants to emulate the US system.

Kristian Niemietz has also been fighting this lonely fight against uncritical acceptance of the Commonwealth Fund survey for a long time:

The Commonwealth Fund study is the outlier among health system rankings, because it pays little attention to outcomes – it is mainly based on survey responses and general system characteristics. But it has one category which does relate to outcomes, and in that category, the UK comes out 10th out of 11 countries. So even the preferred study of NHS cheerleaders confirms that in terms of outcomes, the NHS is one of the worst systems in the developed world.

Niemietz concludes:

The jingoism of Little Englanders is sometimes unedifying, but it is not nearly as cringeworthy as the NHS patriotism of the left. The NHS is the country’s most overrated institution. It is the Carling of healthcare systems. It achieves nothing that dozens of other healthcare systems do not also achieve, and usually better – and it’s time we admitted that to ourselves.

I made the same point in a television interview several years ago, pointing out that if you want to make a staunchly internationalist, post-patriotic left-winger sound like the stereotypical swivel-eyed Ukipper all one has to do is whisper the letters “NHS”, at which point they will immediately start ranting about British superiority and exceptionalism, waxing lyrical about how we alone have unlocked the secret of compassionate, universal healthcare delivery, while the other, benighted nations of the world look on at us in envy.

If the NHS is ever to be meaningfully reformed, if healthcare outcomes are ever to improve in Britain relative to the countries which are overtaking us, this wall of ignorance and denial must be torn down. But just from the facial expressions and physical demeanour of Anna Soubry and Alan Johnson in this BBC This Week segment, you can see that they will not be reasoned with. And if politicians who style themselves as pragmatic centrists cannot take the emotion out of an argument and drop the NHS hagiography for an honest discussion of healthcare reform, what chance is there?

This is a cult, plain and simple. When people cannot look dispassionately at a government service but instead debase themselves by sanctifying it (as though universal healthcare were in any way unique to Britain), observing its holy days, quoting its founders and worshipping its historical figures, what you have is a cult.

 

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In Defence Of Andrew Neil’s Anti-ISIS Rant – Political Journalism At Its Best

No, Andrew Neil’s magnificent anti-Islamist rant was not a violation of the BBC’s commitment to impartiality

It’s a strange world where I find myself writing in support of Andrew Neil twice in the same week, but then these are very strange political times.

Nick Cohen sings Andrew Neil’s praises in The Spectator this week, before going on to condemn Neil’s rousing anti-ISIS monologue at the start of his This Week programme – a speech which this blog strongly supported – on the puzzling grounds that it broke the rules on journalistic impartiality.

Cohen writes well as always, but there are so many mistaken premises and inaccurate comparisons in this piece that a proper rebuttal is needed.

His criticism of Neil begins:

Everywhere you look you can see broadcasters following Neil and Snow and pushing against the fuddy-duddy rule that they must show ‘due impartiality’. The Church of England is joining in, and pushing against equally antiquated restrictions on political and religious advertising.

They must be stopped. However admirable Neil and Snow’s sentiments are, and however inoffensive the Anglican’s celebration of the Lord’s Prayer was, we have to shut them up. The BBC and Channel 4 should never have broadcast their interviewers’ opinion. The cinema chains were right to tell the Church of England it was not welcome on their screens.

Britain is a country with rules to prevent wealthy politicians buying votes and wealthy televangelists buying converts. We are also a country that has fought to maintain the principle that broadcasters must be politically neutral – not always successfully, I grant you.

Three points here. First, the requirement for broadcasters to show ‘due impartiality’ applies to news programmes, and not to commentary – least of all when we are nowhere near a general or local election, the time when the rules governing broadcaster impartiality are at their strictest. The BBC’s This Week is a political magazine show, not a straight-laced news bulletin. Of course one would not expect Evan Davis, Kirsty Wark or Huw Edwards to pepper their delivery of the news with caustic criticisms or sarcastic asides – that would be highly improper. But a political magazine show is by definition an opinion-based show, relying for its content on a parade of partisan guests from different political parties and the media.

Cohen attempts to lump Andrew Neil’s tirade against ISIS along with Jon Snow’s coverage of the Israeli siege of Gaza, but this is comparing apples and oranges – one is a daily news bulletin required to be impartial, and one is a weekly talk show where opinions and partisan debate are essential ingredients.

Second, this is Andrew Neil we are talking about – a seasoned veteran journalist and businessman with a vast political Rolodex and a personal “brand” all of his own. Neil was also editor of the right-leaning Sunday Times for over a decade, is chairman of the company which owns the reliably Tory-friendly Spectator, and in previous life was a researcher for the Conservative Party. Neil was never supposed to be an anonymous newsreader, nor is he marketed as one – people watch This Week because Andrew Neil presents the show, and they know exactly what they are getting when they do so. The BBC are fine with that, and there is nothing to suggest that either the letter or the spirit of the rules are not being followed.

And thirdly, while Cohen’s assertion that Britain is “a country with rules to prevent … wealthy televangelists buying converts” might plausibly be true, we are also a nation with an established state Church – one whose grasping tentacles reach into nearly aspect of our politics and our national life. The ongoing row about the Church of England’s cinema advert is a separate issue, but we should not pretend that our United Kingdom is a nation where we even pay proper lip service to the concept of separation of powers.

When meddlesome bishops speak out in parliamentary debates without a shred of a democratic mandate, and when there are still scenarios whereby the Queen might conceivably end up picking the next government, we should not act as though there is some ancient and grave constitutional requirement for television stations to broadcast opinionless, equivocating platitudes 24/7.

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Cohen continues:

Broadcasters themselves know a dirty secret newspaper editors understand too well: extreme opinions sell. They confirm the partisan in their beliefs and draw in outraged opponents.

[..] Broadcasters want a piece of that action. Opinion is cheap. News is expensive. The public watched Andrew Neil and Jon Snow’s polemics in their millions. What possible justification is there for insisting on balance, accuracy and impartiality?

It may be the case that news is expensive while opinion is cheap, but without the forceful expression of political opinions there could be no This Week in the first place – indeed, there could be no Question Time or Newsnight interviews either, let alone the crucible that is Radio Four’s Today Programme. And if Cohen is saying that the host should always be impartial even on political magazine shows then he sets a standard which can simply never be met, since every raised eyebrow, incredulous glance, rude interruption or “gotcha moment” will be seized on as evidence of deepest bias. Far better that we have good presenters with transparent histories like Neil, and then allow the public to adjust their perceptions accordingly.

Besides, this is not a question of political neutrality, at least as we traditionally understand the matter. Britain is not at war with a sovereign nation, however much ISIS may try to strut and pose as such. We are in conflict with a nihilistic, totalitarian death cult which seeks to spill the blood of everyone who does not adhere to their harsh, warped interpretation of Islam. They stand for nothing save creating hell on Earth to please their petty, jealous and vindictive god. Why shouldn’t the presenter of a serious political talk show be able to say that which we all know to be true?

And since when did expressing an opinion prevent something from being “real journalism”? Is Cohen himself not a journalist because his Spectator piece failed to strike an impartial position between Andrew Neil and himself? Whenever a broadcast news presenter reports on a “horrifying murder” or a “tragic death” they are making a value judgement and presuming to speak on behalf of the 99.5 percent of people who will agree with them. There is no moral or statutory requirement for the newsreader to treat criminal and victim alike in their tone and description, nor should there be. Similarly, ISIS are torturers, rapists and murderers. They break the law every moment of every day in their campaign to spread hatred and ignorance around the world. What’s wrong with saying so?

If ISIS were a legitimate, functioning state or political party and Andrew Neil went on a two minute tirade about their fiscal policy or industrial strategy then there might be grounds to accuse him of political bias. But that is absolutely not the case. Andrew Neil saw ISIS (or Islamist Scum, as he now calls them) take their patented formula of death and suffering, and smear it across the bright lights of Paris one unsuspecting Friday night, and he called it what it was – an act of savage murder that history suggests is doomed to fail in its stated goals.

If ISIS supporters were greatly offended by Neil’s words and lack of objectivity then by all means they can submit a complaint via OFCOM or the BBC Trust. I rather hope that they try.

But they do not need Nick Cohen – or anyone else – to help them out.

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The Daily Toast: After Paris, Andrew Neil’s Bravura Anti-Islamist Speech

Three cheers to Andrew Neil for his bravura speech praising Western enlightenment values in comparison with murderous “Islamist scumbags” – and their sleazy apologists on the British Left

It’s fair to say that this blog has not always been the biggest fan of Andrew Neil, or what he has done with the BBC’s flagship political television output.

But I have only admiration for his opening monologue on today’s Daily Politics, responding to last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris. It’s worth transcribing Neil’s speech in its entirety:

Welcome to This Week. A week in which a bunch of loser jihadists slaughtered a hundred and fifty-two innocents in Paris to prove the future belongs to them rather than the civilisation like France.

Well, I can’t say that I fancy their chances. France: the country of Descartes, Boulez, Monet, Satre, Rousseau, Camou, Renoir, Berlioz, Cézanne, Gauguin, Hugo, Voltaire, Matisse, Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Bizet, Satie, Pasteur, Molière, Franck, Zola, Balzac, Blanc, cutting edge science, world class medicine, fearsome security forces, nuclear power, Coco Chanel, Château Lafite, coq  au vin, Daft Punk, Zizou Zidane, Juliette Binoche, liberté, égalité, fraternité and creme brûlée.

Versus what? Beheadings, crucifixions, amputations, slavery, mass murder, medieval squalor, a death cult barbarity that would shame the Middle Ages. Well, IS, or Da’esh, or ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever name you’re going by, I’m sticking with IS – as in Islamist Scumbags.

I think the outcome is pretty clear to everybody but you: whatever atrocities you are currently capable of committing, you will lose. In a thousand years’ time, Paris – that glorious city of lights – will still be shining bright, as will every other city like it, while you will be as dust, along with a ragbag of fascists, Nazis and Stalinists who have previously dared to challenge democracy. And failed.

What a marvellous, stirring speech in defence of Western civilisation. Between Andrew Neil and John Oliver, here we have all the response we need to those who preach an ideology of hatred, ignorance and death.

If only more of our political and civic leaders had the self-confidence and moral fibre to speak like Neil (Oliver would probably be going too far) – and not just in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on a European capital – perhaps we would not be facing such a crisis of confidence in Western and British values.

And that crisis of confidence is unfortunately summed up in some of the responses to Neil’s speech on Twitter:

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Through an insatiable desire to signal their virtue, flaunt their multiculturalist credentials and deliberately misinterpret those who dare to criticise the Islamists – but never Muslims in general – there are some on the Left who will only ever see bad in the West, and a plucky underdog in the murderous fanatics who bring death to innocent people in Paris, Madrid, New York and London.

These people are despicable. If our civilisation does ever collapse, it will be entirely thanks to their self-flagellating, virtue-signalling, moralising vacuity – not the Islamists, whose brief time strutting around the world stage will perish just like all of the failed ideologies that came before it.

A big toast to Andrew Neil for a full throated and very welcome defence of Western enlightenment and civilisation in the face of primitive Islamist barbarism.

And shame on each and every one of the virtue-signalling, West-hating, terror-appeasing, amoral leftists who chose to attack the speech on social media to flaunt their warped “tolerance” credentials.

They and the murderous Islamists fully deserve one another.

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On Bilderberg Withdrawal Syndrome

It’s all over.

The last armoured limousines have swept back out of the Watford Grove Hotel’s gates, and the helicopters have departed.

The steel fence is being disassembled, and Alex Jones has flown back to his “central command center” in Austin, Texas.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have a rather acute case of Bilderberg Withdrawal Syndrome.

For a few precious days, at least a segment of the population who don’t normally pay attention sat up and looked at the protesters, covered on television at length for the first time, and listened to what they had to say. They heard about the concentration of power in the hands of a global elite, about our failed financial system, the lack of accountability in the political and corporate worlds, the pervasive nature of the surveillance state, and the efforts underway to undermine the importance of local power and the nation state.

And so for the first time in a very long time we were able to have something of a national conversation about causes rather than effects. About the disease rather than the symptoms (which are covered in one form another by the newspaper headlines most days – crime, immigration, unemployment, income inequality, education).

And it was amazing how widely and enthusiastically the message was received. I was particularly heartened to learn how many of the police officers guarding the meeting venue and the Bilderberg Fringe protest site had listened to the message from the protesters and taken an active interest, some even undertaking to go home and do their own research:

 

Ellen Grace Jones, writing at The Huffington Post, agrees with my assessment:

A triumph in securing – for the first time ever – wall-to-wall mainstream media attendance, subjecting the meeting to serious enquiry and inspection. And a triumph in hosting a peaceful, joyful Fringe event within the Grove grounds which united thousands of concerned citizens, activists and inquisitive Watford locals. This year felt like a sea change in dragging the shadowy cabal’s club kicking and screaming into the daylight.

She continues:

On Sunday, with the Fringe winding down and a hundred or so lining the gates as the delegates left, I questioned a police liaison officer if he’d felt awakened by the event he’d witnessed this weekend. “I’ve heard a lot of interesting ideas that I’m going to go away and research. I’ve got a reading list, Agenda 21, Endgame which I’m going to follow up. The one person who really made me sit up and go ‘oh my god’ was one of the audience, a former stockbroker. He was discussing things I’ve thought about like who’s controlling the energy companies, oil company cartels and the Libor bank scandal and he made me think, yeah actually, as someone who’s suffered from the housing crash somebody else should be paying for this but it’s the public sector that’s being screwed to pay for their mistakes – especially the police, we’re being cut.”

Of course, it wasn’t all good. The Bilderberg protests brought out the absolute worst in much of the British mainstream news media, who refused to take the issue seriously at all, treated the protesters as imbeciles and simpletons to a man, and covered the event only as the lighthearted end segment, where you would normally expect to be entertained by a squirrel on water-skis.

The foremost example was the truly dreadful segment from the BBC’s The Sunday Politics show, in which the lead-in to the segment focused only on the lunatic fringe of the protest and wholly ignored the serious concerns of the protesters, and the substance (if it can be called that) of the interview itself, with US journalist Alex Jones, whereupon host Andrew Neil decided to mock his guest from start to finish, fail to ask serious questions and ultimately provoke Jones into one of his famous rages:

 

There were also reports of Bilderberg-covering journalists being held or turned away at the border, and of harrasment of various kinds.

But on the whole, those wonderful days where we actually got to talk in public and on mainstream media about freedom and liberty without getting bogged down in the minutiae and drudgery of day-to-day political distraction were intellectually refreshing, and invaluable for the movement.

Roll on Bilderberg 2014 – if they dare assemble in public sight again.