Post Script on the NHS

One of the most gratifying things in politics is to go out on a bit of a limb, and then find that other authoritative commentators are rowing in behind.  In various media interventions, I had sought to reaffirm that the Conservative Party is committed to universal healthcare free at the point of delivery, but also to stress that support for the NHS does not preclude fair criticism of the existing arrangements.  These criticisms are both justified, and necessary if we are to solve the problems and to deliver first-class healthcare to the British people in the 21st century.
Rather than condemning Dan Hannan, who first raised the shortcomings of our NHS system in a Fox News interview, we should be thanking him for starting a real debate.  Yet he (and I) have been attacked as “unpatriotic” by Labour ministers who should know better.  They prefer to hide their heads in the sand and maintain the pretence that the NHS is “the envy of the world”.  If it is, it’s odd that no other country has sought to emulate it.
But there was some encouragement for our position in today’s Sunday papers.  Professor Karol Sikora, a former director of cancer services in the NHS, and a highly regarded commentator on health issues, has said “It is ridiculous that no one is allowed to criticise anything (in the NHS)”.  The pressure group Doctors for Reform, representing over 1000 NHS doctors, says that the NHS must “change or die”, and that it cannot survive if it is funded by taxation alone.  Their spokesman Dr. Christoph Lees said “Several expensive drugs will not be given approval … we are going to move towards more rationing”.
And the Sunday Times editorial on the issue concludes: “Socialised medicine does not have to be like this: European and Scandinavian systems have much better records in treating the sick.  They have avoided the monolithic state system in favour of diversity and choice.  Britain and America should learn from them”.  Amen to that.
And in the Sunday Telegraph, we read that more than 30,000 people — yes, 30,000 — have died of the hospital infection MRSA in the five years 2004/2008.  That’s about as many as die on the roads.  And in a separate report, we read that per capita spending on cancer treatment in the UK can vary between health trusts by a factor of three.  In the highest-spending trusts it’s around £15,000, while the figure for the lowest-spending trust is below £5,000.  And where’s that?  It’s in Leicester and Rutland, part of the East Midlands which I represent.  I shall be writing to the trust to ask for an explanation.  But taking these facts into account, I defy anyone to say that it’s unpatriotic to criticise the NHS.  It would be failing the electorate and the citizen if we were to fail to do so.

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21 Responses to Post Script on the NHS

  1. Malcolm Dunn says:

    I am an admirer of both yours and Dan Hannan’s regarding our relationship with the EU.
    But on allying ourselves with the Republican opponents of Obama’s health reforms and going on Hannity and Beck to rubbish the NHS in the most lurid terms I think that Dan has been been both politically foolish and unpatriotic and you have been foolish to support him.
    Sure there is a case for reforming the NHS. But to go on a foreign TV channel and come out with crass statements like the ‘NHS makes you ill’, it’s a 60 year mistake and ‘I wouldn’t wish the NHS on anyone’ is stupidity of the highest order.
    I hope in future you will not try to get involved in political controversy of another country and will confine yourselves to presenting solutions to Britain’s political problems to the British media in a calm and responsible way.

  2. Victor Southern says:

    Sorry Mr Helmer. You may have some good points but all you have achieved, you and Hannan, is to set up a coconut shy for Labour to throw at.

    You are not part of the UK legislative assembly and you really ought to confine yourself to matters of the EU for which you were elected.

    Please, don’t Say It! Shut It!

  3. fausty says:

    I support your stance, Mr Helmer.

    You are right to attack Obama’s health care plan because it is a foot in the door for socialism.

    No further comment necessary.

  4. Paul Halsall says:

    I support Labour.

    Please keep posting this stuff.

  5. Mr Dunn, Mr Southern,

    Balderdash. What is unpatriotic about saying something on US TV rather than elsewhere? The message is important, it is often ignored or (as we have seen) shouted down in the UK, and it is relevant to the USA at the moment. Democrats there have held the NHS and Canadian healthcare up as paragons (and made fools of themselves), so why not point out that the NHS is seriously flawed? They need to know that, it would be unethical not to correct their mistaken perception.

    It is impossible to argue against Hannan’s central point, which is why Labour has not tried to. The NHS is not fit for purpose, and very bad for our country.

    So why should we not all discuss this? Mr Helmer is an MEP, but I am not elected. Are you saying, Mr Southern, that I am not allowed to discuss this because I am not an elected MP?

    Why should people not challenge Labour? Conservatives should, it is their job. Labour is weak, the country is more willing to listen to other people now. The news media are weakening, their biased and outdated attitudes can be challenged.

    • Malcolm Dunn says:

      A couple of points Doubting Richard.
      What Obama is proposing is not akin to anything like the NHS and has specifically said that he would like to emulate our system.
      The NHS may well be flawed but the place to have a debate about that is here and not on the Beck show on Fox news.
      If you can’t see the damage that Dan has done with his inflammatory quotes on that show I’d be amazed.

      • How do you know? Not event he people who are supposed to be voting on it know what it actually means directly, let alone in the long-run. Obama has voiced support for single-payer, and stated how he would start. This bill is in line with that start point.

        However that is irrelevant. The Democrats have talked up socialized healthcare with reference to the UK and Canadian systems, probably the two most centralised in the world. That is why Hannan’s comments were relevant.

        What has been damaged by Hannan’s words? They are words, points in a debate. He did not shoot anyone!

  6. Jimmy Jones says:

    Paul, so you believe the NHS gets everything right? Surely we should want what is best for the health of people not worship an institution that may or may not deliver that!

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  8. Rob (UK) says:

    Of course criticising the NHS isn’t unpatriotic. It’s just nuttier than a massive bag of nuts. I’d rather take my chances with MRSA than see the poorest people of this country being tended to in makeshift hospital tents as if they lived in some war torn hell hole. Or America.

    • David says:

      Rob, was that post of yours written just for effect, or do you really believe that the NHS is the only healthcare system in the developed world that offers universal coverage – and that the only alternative to the NHS is a healthcare system that offers little or no support for those who can’t afford to pay? I mean, do you really, truly and honestly believe that? If you do, please could I suggest you spend some time rethinking whatever strategies you’re using to engage with reality, because goodness knows what fanciful notions you may be entertaining at the moment if this post is any indication.

      Nobody has proposed adopting the American healthcare system in the UK, or even suggested the possibility of thinking about doing so. To claim that any change to the NHS would result in standards for the poorest comparable with those found in the US, in the face of every shred of evidence, displays the very grossest, bloody-minded ignorance.

  9. resident leftie says:

    Your figures are wrong. For those people who are interested, look at the real figures on the National Statistics website,, and compare this to 18600 deaths from MRSA in the States in 2005 alone (see . Adjusted for population, this shows that the NHS is doing a much better job than the US health care system. Let’s hear you say “I was wrong.”

    • Roger Helmer says:

      But I was not wrong. I made no comparison with the USA. I am not trying to promote a US model, merely trying to improve the NHS. I haven’t been able to check your number. But the NHS figure is 30,000 in five years, so average 6,000 a year. Adjusting for population, that’s 30,000 equivalent in the USA. So even on your figures, the NHS is getting on for twice as bad as the USA. Let’s hear you say “I was wrong”!

  10. Victor Southern says:

    Doubting Richard

    I did not imply that Hannan and Helmer are in any way unpatriotic. I believe they are jingoistic.

    I have no opinion whatsoever on the American system of health care as I have insufficient information and would not want to make it a crusade as I am not involved.

    What I deplore is the needless mischief making on the NHS topic by two representatives who are elected and paid to deal with other matters. I also deplore the sheer negative impact it has on my party. It is now widely believed that is Conservative policy to shut down the NHS. Well, it isn’t, we intend to reform it. That does not mean that we will assume the problem has one blindingly simple answer.

    • No you didn’t, Mr Dunn said that. But Mr Hannan was on television in a private capacity. He was not there under his role as an MEP, but invited because his opinions and way of expressing them are popular in the USA. So why does his job mean he can’t comment in a private capacity on issues not related to that job?

      The negative impact on Conservatives has been negligible. OK that is partly because it has exposed Andy Burnham as an idiot, but it is also I believe because people know the NHS is not very good, and that a debate is needed about reform. Labour trying to shut that debate down goes right along with the image people now have of the Party.

  11. Roger Helmer says:

    May I address the particular point of “saying things in America”? I have frequently attended Republican functions in the USA, where I have tried to explain the shortcomings of the EU, and why the US should still engage with individual European nations; why the US should not adopt the EU Cap’n’Trade approach; and a range of other matters. The Americans are our friends. It is quite natural and proper that we should occasionally talk together and share our ideas, and I make no apology for doing so. Neither, I imagine, does Dan.

  12. Andy Fear says:

    Copngratulations on taking on THE shibboleth of British politics. We are forever told that the NHS is the envy of the world, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – and there are no imitators… Please press on, it’s the only way to make progress.

  13. Paul Halsall says:

    I was born in the UK in 1960. I lived in the US from 1987-2007 – and always had good insurance. I paid taxes, etc, in both countries. And I NOW LIVE WITH AIDS, as I have since 1990. So I know what good healthcare means.

    Even if, as I did, you have the best possible US insurance plans, you still face massive co-payments for meds (max. required in the UK is £102/$172 per year, for anyone, on any income). But for any procedure in the US you got co-payment bills from 2-3-4-5 participants. If any single thing was mistaken, you faced weeks of paperwork.

    The doctors and nurses are fine in the US – they are not all profit-driven nuts. But the paperwork you deal with is incredible.

    Here in the UK, I get healthcare which is just as good, or in some respects better. And face no paperwork at all.

    Who was paying for all that paperwork in the US? Who was wasting time processing it? Here in the UK we save money simply by treating people as needed.

  14. Roger Helmer says:

    Paul: In the NHS we have more managers than doctors. You may not see the paperwork, but all the NHS staff do. And who pays for it? We do.

    And Victor: “We intend to reform it”. That’s exactly what I’ve been saying, over and over again. Just listen.

  15. Paul Halsall says:


    I am not opposed to reducing NHS officialdom.

    But we in the UK spend 8.4% of our GDP on healthcare. In the US they spend 16% of GDP, but they have worse outcomes.

    Moreover, Health Insurance companies there spend only 47% of income on health – the rest is administration. And that does not even count the cost of administrators in hospitals and doctors’ offices employed to claim as much as possible.

    American cities are stuffed full of office buildings full of people doing pointless healthcare paperwork shuffling.

    So, who pays for it? Well we all do, and we get a much better deal than they get in the US.

  16. John Morton says:

    Yet another false debate. Not one mention here of the underlying problem – the HMO system, and BIG PHARMA.

    We need to do some trust busting and get back to an FDR (i.e. Hill Burton) model of public infrastructure investment to move away from this idiotic “left vs right” silliness.

    The rage in America is a direct result of the EUTHANASIA provisions that were jammed in there on orders of Peter Orszag and Dr Ezekiel Emmanuel, and the other behavioural fascists in the Obama administration, explicitly to promote healhcare rationing and “end of life” counselling.

    Does this not sound kind of, well, Nazi, to you defenders of the NHS NICE system?

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