For the NHS’s 70th birthday, let’s have a bit of honesty

Unlike many, I can’t recall having any especially bad experiences of the NHS. Other than the usual exceptionally long waiting times and the experience of feeling generally neglected that even the system’s staunchest defenders must admit are commonplace, it’s been nothing to get worked up about.

It’s patched me up a couple of times and sorted out a few ailments that probably would have had life-limiting repercussions had I lived in the 1600s. Despite this I still have no particular affection for it.

As such I doubt I would feature highly in the mind-numbing coverage of the NHS’s 70th birthday.

Of all the things Britain has achieved, the NHS is the one I’m probably least satisfied with. Systemic failures aside, nationalisation has resulted in a practically lobotomised national conversation about healthcare. It conflates the general advances in medicine, driven largely by private and third sector innovation, with the existence of the NHS. It confuses all insurance-based systems with the US model. It tells us we should be grateful for outcomes that we would have had anyway, had an alternative healthcare model been devised.

This is why I can’t get excited about it. In all likelihood, the service I would have received would have been the same, if not better, in an alternative system.

Here are some undeniable facts. Healthcare systems existed in the UK before the NHS. Ask your grandparents who presumably didn’t die being born if you’re unclear about this.  Most developed countries have a system of healthcare that is free at the point of use. Nobody has attempted to emulate our model. Not even those Nordic countries certain people get excited about.

Most of these countries have better outcomes. While the NHS ranks very highly for things like equality of access it is also very bad at keeping people alive, often ranking in the bottom third in international comparisons. Emblematic of this is one study, by the Commonwealth Fund, that rated the NHS as a top health service, yet in the category that actually dealt with health outcomes ranked it second to last.

What with all the vomit-inducing singalongs, there simply isn’t an honest discussion about this or the healthcare context in general. The media don’t really seem interested. When Sky News asked people for their experiences of the NHS on Twitter, they casually waded through scores of replies about being asked to clear up your own blood, being misdiagnosed and dead relatives to respond to only the positive ones.

Inevitably the NHS will be replaced or at least be remodeled. Lots of people in the country have a view about what they would like to see replace it. Could we just have a bit of honesty about it?