Recently on an American TV show, my good friend and colleague Dan Hannan MEP had the temerity to suggest that the NHS was not the ideal solution to our nation’s healthcare problems — or to America’s. His statement was demonstrably true, as a glance at comparative statistics will show.
Yet fire and brimstone rained down upon him. It was as if he had blasphemed against the Holy Ghost, or made a joke in bad taste about the Queen Mum. Like them, the NHS is above criticism.
First it was Labour Ministers and leftie papers. Then even David Cameron disowned him, describing his views as “eccentric”. We allowed the media to get away with a false syllogism which on examination is palpably absurd. If you support the NHS, they said, you cannot say a word against it. Therefore Hannan was defying Cameron and the Party. There were calls for the Conservative Whip to be withdrawn. In fact the media myth (as is so often the case) was just about the opposite of the truth. If you care about the NHS, you will be concerned at its undeniable failures, and determined to do something to resolve them. If on the other hand you stick your head in the sand and refuse to recognise any fault in the NHS, you are clearly unable to reform it.
Bobbing in the wake of my more illustrious colleague, I added my tuppence-worth to the debate, insisting that the starting-point for reform is a clear-headed analysis of current problems, and that Dan had done us all a favour by bringing the issue into the open and starting a real debate.
So it was perhaps ironical that only days after the storm broke, the Telegraph on its from page ran a big headline “Cruelty and neglect in the NHS”. It featured a report from The Patients’ Association, chaired by Claire Raynor, which listed examples of appalling nursing care, and a total lack of respect for patients’ dignity, and urgent care and hygiene needs. Suddenly the airwaves and the phone-ins were swamped with heart-rending stories about desperate suffering inflicted on patients — most often elderly and vulnerable patients.
Let’s put in the usual caveat: of course most NHS staff are overworked, and professional, and caring and compassionate. Of course they are. And many patients are very happy with the NHS care they received, and grateful for it. Yet nevertheless the extent of woefully poor treatment and care is undeniably widespread and endemic, not just the odd example. And clearly while some of the blame attaches to the occasional careless nurse, most of it attaches to the system. We know from decades of experience that government-run services consistently fail to deliver standards of customer service comparable to the private sector.
So Dan stands vindicated. The NHS overall, much as we may love it in a nostalgic sort of way, is not delivering the high and consistent standards of healthcare that the British people deserve in the 21st century. Who can read the stories in today’s papers and still condemn Dan Hannan for saying he could not recommend the NHS model to America?
So let’s keep the right of medical care for all citizens regardless of their ability to pay. But then let’s be radical. If the state funds healthcare, wholly or in part, should that mean that the state must deliver healthcare? Clearly no. And is a 100% taxpayer-funded system ideal? Clearly no. We should look to countries just over the Channel to see universal care funded in alternative ways — perhaps part by insurance, part by co-payment. But one thing is sure: like the alcoholic, the NHS won’t start to recover until it recognises that it has a problem.
See Dan’s excellent article about the right of parliamentarians to dissent. DT Aug 28th.
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