According to an on-line quiz to resolve which party you should vote for in today’s European Elections, wanting to protect the NHS equates to believing that its destruction by privatisation is the worst thing that could happen to the UK. Ever.
That’s clearly a bit of an exaggeration because I’m pretty sure that the entire country being flattened by an enormous asteroid would be worse. As would Justin Bieber deciding that he’d quite like to come back here after all. Anyway, this has got me thinking about some of the reasons why some people would like the NHS privatised.
From the way the word ‘reform’ is bandied about, occasionally alongside ‘not fit for purpose’ and ‘time-bomb’ you’d think the NHS was so out of date, so old, so incapable of change to meet the needs of today and tomorrow that it is better to sweep it all away and start again. Because, you know, we’re operating with such old equipment and practices and what they have in the USA is so shiny and works so well.
Except that’s not really true, is it? The NHS was founded in 1948. The various acts to get it up and running were passed from 1946 onwards. There are people alive today who were born before the NHS was founded, so it’s within living memory. That’s not so old and it’s not so fossilised it can’t be improved. After all, if we were to ditch everything invented before 1946 we’d have to get rid of TV, radio, computing, space rockets….yeah, all those really old-fashioned things that haven’t been able to move with the times at all.
Then, of course, there’s democracy and the Houses of Parliament and MPs themselves. That whole system has been going for, like, centuries, man. Must be time for some serious changes there. OK, so that is something that maybe the majority of us would like to change, but I’m guessing we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, get rid of everything we’ve learned along the way and end up with a dictatorship, or a feudal system, or anything else that could happen if we didn’t have a vote.
So, back to the NHS. It’s not without its need for improvement, but privatisation is a backwards step, no matter how stealthily it is done.
Some people (notably the Freakonomics guys) have stated that free at the point of demand is what makes the NHS so expensive. People just overuse it until it costs way too much. Except….no. For one thing the tax paid per person for healthcare in the US is MORE than what we pay here. And that doesn’t get them free treatment. It only covers the schemes that are limited access – for the retired, congress members and such. They still have to pay insurance premiums on top of that. Also, the unit cost of various kinds of care is much higher than in countries with NHS-type care (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSjGouBmo0M for info: it’s funny as well as informative, so I hope you’ll watch it)
Also, I just don’t think we overuse the NHS to the point that it is breaking. Yes, there will be some overuse by some people, but there is also massive under-use. How many campaigns can you think of to try and get people in to be checked out so diseases can be caught at early stages? The persistent cough one, the various check for lumps and bumps in different parts of the body ones, the unusual…..ok, maybe I’ll stop there and just mention the several series of Embarrassing Bodies.
Would any of these be necessary/commercially viable TV if we were all going to our GPs and A & E so much that any slight thing we might develop was picked up before it became a problem? No, of course not.
Then, of course, there’s the whole stopping smoking thing. The NHS will help you quit smoking, for FREE, so you don’t have to carry on spending your own money on cigarettes and tobacco. If we all went for the free stuff so we didn’t spend our own money then no-one would smoke in this country. At all. Ever. There is obviously something else going on here, and that thing is human nature. We don’t always do what is expected, especially when those doing the expecting are economists, so let’s not see the NHS through a narrow and flawed viewpoint.
One group that is particularly reluctant to overuse the NHS is the elderly. You know, that vast, growing, group of highly needy (ie greedy in the view of some) that we’re all ‘struggling’ to pay for. You may know the odd one or two that are always popping into the GP. Well, maybe they’re lonely. Struggling. That’s a genuine need, and if the only way they can fix that is to see the GP every week then shame on us, not them.
Some people might want to see an end to the NHS because they want to pay as little tax as possible, and they may have this overly optimistic view that if they’re ever sick they’ll always be rich enough to cover it, so let’s look at that as a scenario.
Let’s assume that you are so amazingly rich, from such an amazingly rich family, that you have never used any NHS service at all. You’ve had your own private doctors and nurses. What’s more, you’ve been able to set up your own medical school, so they haven’t even needed to be tainted by NHS training. This medical school has also got it’s own research programme, so none of the knowledge it uses, not even the knowledge that went into designing the equipment your private doctors and nurses use, none of it came from the NHS. You and your family paid for all of it yourselves. Not only that, but you don’t use any roads, street lights, rubbish collection services, teachers for your kids, shop assistants, that have been built, maintained, taught, researched, or had anything to do with anyone who has ever had to use the NHS.
Don’t you think it would be easier (not to mention considerably cheaper) to just fund the NHS properly so we can all use it when we need to?