There was once an institution that was seen to be above criticism, immune from any type of query: the Christian Church. As the society became more secular, the various Churches began to lose their power. However people – being creatures of habit – replaced it with something else: the National Health Service.
The Red Cross has decided that the NHS is facing a ‘humanitarian crisis’ and, frankly, this is abject nonsense. The term ‘humanitarian crisis’ is reserved for things like, you know, famine and war. As sad as it is, it should never be used to describe people being kept in beds in hospital corridors. In this era of post-truth politics, where feelings matter more than the facts, our health service is the best demonstration of this cultural trend.
The simple fact of the matter is that the NHS is not fit for purpose. When it was first conceived in 1948, people did not live as long. They did not binge drink to the early hours of the morning and then arrive in A&E to abuse nurses and doctors. And they certainly did not feel a little bit under the weather and book an appointment with their GP so that they could demand needless antibiotics. These heavy demands are placing a burden that needs to be lifted.
It’s not just its consumers that are to blame for this crumbling institution, however. The chief executive of NHS England (who, interestingly one might say, was once a Labour Councillor for Brixton in 1998-2002) criticised the Prime Minister by saying that she was ‘pushing it’ when she claimed that the NHS got more than it asked for in terms of funding.
That’s right everybody. The NHS doesn’t have enough money to make sure everybody has a bed but does have enough money to advertise for the role of an Assistant Director of Equality and Diversity, who could earn up to £57,640. It can’t quite find the funds to tackle the disturbing tide of mental health problems in young people but can ensure that under 1,400 under-18s can be seen at the Gender Identity Clinic in London, including three children aged three. And it can’t quite push to funding life-saving cancer treatment drugs but has magically found money to fund a three-year clinical trial for PrEP worth £10m, to ensure that people can continue to have unsafe promiscuous sex. The issue, it’s clear, isn’t just with those who access it; the issue is also with management.
It is not the intention of this article to argue for the abolition of the NHS though it’s quite clear that, if we continue down this route, we will have no other choice. As people live longer, and lead increasingly more hedonistic lifestyles, we desperately need to start asking questions of the NHS. As Allison Pearson remarked in Thursday’s Telegraph: ‘Politicians, channel Clement Attlee and do something bold, for God’s sake.’ Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn need to stop bickering like children over the dispatch box, and get real.
We need to slash the amount of non-clinical staff, who collectively amount for more of the NHS workforce than nurses, doctors, and ambulance workers (and yes, this will include getting rid of the ‘Equality and Diversity’ officers.) Next up, we need to deal with people who turn up to A&E because they’ve had too much to drink and want a bed for the night. Even in an inebriated state, they’d have enough about them to know not to go a hospital for a nap if they knew they’d have to pay for the privilege. Which brings us on to people who miss a GP appointment. In 2015 it was revealed that 61,000 GP appointments were wasted each year, costing the NHS £14.1m a year. A fine, once again, would do quite nicely here. These measures may not sound nice, but it’s what we’re being driven to.
It really is time to end the ceaseless platitudes to the NHS. If you were working the stock markets, you would want to know how your investment was going to benefit you. The NHS, regardless of what its hysterical defenders may claim, is exactly the same. It’s about time that people who pay their taxes, funding the health service, start to ask the hard questions, regardless of how uncomfortable the answers may be.