In November 2007 my grandmother died a protracted, agonising, unnecessary death on ward 11 of Mid Staffs Hospital. My mother, appalled by the ‘Care’ that she received, placed an ad in the local paper appealing for anyone else who had suffered there. Her phone did not stop ringing for 3 days.
She has spent the last 9 years fighting for patient safety and opposing the culture of denial and obfuscation at the heart of the NHS. There have been three inquiries into Mid Staffs, each uncovering grievous errors in patient safety; none of which would have come to light without my mother’s intervention. She has made an indelible difference to patient safety in the UK and her efforts were recognised in 2014 when she was awarded a CBE for services to the elderly.
Her journey has not been easy. From the very beginning she has faced denial, disbelief and open hostility – such is the lot of anyone who dares to question the eternal virtue of ‘Mother NHS’. She has been hounded in the street, trolled viciously and incessantly online by both the general public and medical professionals, suffered hundreds of nuisance callers and been spat at in the supermarket. This November it will be nine years since my Nan’s death and my mother still has to clean faeces and graffiti off her gravestone.
Such is the level of devotion to the NHS, such is the illogical loyalty that both staff and public feel towards it that any criticism is brutally suppressed. This defence mechanism is ingrained into its very nature. Every story in the press that is anything but a paean of praise is immediately written off as right wing propaganda, part of the mainstream media conspiracy rather than the general public’s right to a transparent and reflective service.
When the Healthcare Commission published its initial report into Mid Staffs the trust’s first response was not to rectify the problems but to spend £1,000,000 commissioning Birmingham University to compile a rebuttal.
One million pounds! One million pounds that could have been spent on doctors and nurses, crutches and casts, Scalpels and forceps. Even a new coffee machine in the canteen would have been a better deal for the public than a study that refuted the claims of another Taxpayer-funded body, in turn making it even more difficult to highlight poor care through the haze of institutional ambivalence.
I understand my family has a unique experience of the ‘Cult of the NHS’, but it is an increasingly common one and if just one person has to go through this, it is one too many.
Healthcare should be about the patient… and nothing more. While we have a venerated NHS this is impossible. The institution always comes first. It is too monolithic, too omnipotent for its identity ever to be subordinated to the needs of those it serves. In its current guise there will always be fanatics who will never admit to shortcomings no matter what evidence is put in front of them, ‘NHS Daesh’ who will never allow the truth to censure their ideology. In this culture true patient-centred care might as well be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Countries with systems based on universal health insurance do not experience the same problems. In France, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and Japan healthcare is not politicised and treatment is widely regarded as superior. An insurance based system healthcare costs as much as it needs to and is not constrained by the political tennis match that sees budgets ebb and flow, forcing the NHS into a permanent state of inadequacy, struggling to deliver 21st century services through a process of rationing that has changed little since the 1950s. It is interesting to remember here that while the Left regards Europe as being more socially progressive and compassionate than the UK, and are willing to hand over sovereignty as a result, they see Europe’s preferred form of healthcare as nothing more than the machination of satanic capitalists.
Of course the Labour party will do everything in its power, legal or otherwise, to prevent this from ever happening. Privatisation is the dog whistle they have been blowing since the 1970s and there is no way they will allow their ballot box trump card to be removed from the game.
This battle will not easily be won. We are confronting the full weight of the Labour movement and the public opinion it has manipulated for decades. When it finally comes the denouement will make the miners’ strike look like a teddy bears’ picnic. But it is a struggle we can no longer avoid.
We all have a duty to challenge the preconceptions of socialised medicine and to increase awareness of the superior alternative. Those who can see the folly of our current system must do more to turn public opinion against it.
Conservatives have traditionally been coy on the topic for fear of reprisals at the ballot box, only daring to mention the dreaded ‘P’ word amongst close friends behind firmly closed doors. But our reticence plays into Labour’s hands, easily construed as a hidden agenda. The left has owned the narrative on healthcare for far too long and it is time we had the courage of our convictions to speak freely and openly about the benefits of privatised healthcare.
So the next time a colleague starts talking about how wonderful the NHS is, don’t stare at your shoes, mumble and change the subject. Speak up, speak out and fly the flag proudly for the death of the NHS.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty