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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