Media and the coalition have embarked on a campaign to insist the NHS is a failing system, while the reforms the government have brought in pose the biggest threat to the wellbeing of the service.
On 5th July, as the NHS was celebrating it’s 65th birthday – 65 years of caring and providing for the entire nation where there is need or emergency, David Cameron announced in an article in The Sun that he loved the NHS, but also, that he needed to tackle the ‘deep’ problems the service faces.
Cue the tabloid torrent of supporting and wholly negative copy, suggesting that NHS staff take too many days off sick, they are careless with funding, the shock of team bonding days that cost hundreds of thousands, the overstretched A&E, the waiting lists reaching record highs because these heartless, callous and selfish NHS staff on frozen wages, who have spent years training in the science of how to look after people are obviously hopeless.
Little mention however of the impact the reforms have had on services. The five year high of waiting lists and crisis of A&E cannot have been helped by the reduction in nursing posts since the coalition came to power.
Of course there are problems with the NHS, and there is always the ability to improve it, but these problems can only be added to when the government implement expensive and unproven schemes which are both over-stretching services and doomed to fail, such as the 111 helpline – which is in turn used as another pawn in the portrayal of a failing NHS.
This also halts the ability of government and practitioners to tend to the real problems in the service, instead scrambling to minimise the destruction of the latest reform or government idea.
But it seems the government do have a real plan for the NHS, and they are working rapidly towards it – privatisation. If you’ve listened to the voices of David Cameron and Nick Clegg on this, you may think it’s not happening, as they both repeatedly assure “We will not privatise the NHS“, but the huge contracts that have changed hands in the last year speak for themselves. Unfortunately, privatisation is already here.
Again, this has somehow escaped the attention of the apparently NHS-obsessed tabloids, but at the end of July, shortly after Cameron’s pledge to challenge the problems of the NHS, bids were opened to the biggest health contract yet, worth between £700m – £1.1bn to “provide health services including end-of-life care for older people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.”
This follows the £450m contract given to Virgin Care at the end of last year to provide health services across Surrey. Whilst Virgin is a worldwide giant known for its planes, trains and broadband, the Virgin Care company did not exist before March 2012, but it is now considering bidding for further contracts, as are the cuddly Serco.
The argument from supporters of privatisation is that it will drive competition and will also see investment from other companies. But, unfortunately, evidence shows that companies looking for profit will only do what they do best – make money;
“Since Virgin took it over from the NHS, patients have had to wait up to three weeks for an appointment instead of three days, three GPs have been reduced to one, and three nurses cut to one part-time nurse. And while the company boasts about the surgery’s opening hours, often there are no clinicians present, just an open empty building. Locals complain that Virgin has “brought Third World medical standards to Kings Heath.”
Yet, these experiences are rarely found in the pages of tabloids or even BBC news.
But amidst the sometimes outrageous attacks on the NHS in the media, including this article by Neil Hamilton – who’s opening gambit is “The NHS is a more effective killing machine than the Taliban”, someone finally broke the trend to remind politicians that the NHS is not a business.
An editorial in the influential journal, The Lancet, said of the recent government announcements to provide a bailout for A&E and an introduction of a price comparison website:
“One might be forgiven for thinking that the current Coalition Government views the NHS as a failing bank or business.
“This stance is one of the most cynical, and at the same time cunning, ways by which the government abdicates all responsibilities for running a health-care system that has patient care and safety at its heart.
“Rather it expects the system, and in it each trust for itself, to be efficient, cost saving, and financially successful or else it is deemed a failing enterprise.
“Doctors, nurses, and health workers are readily blamed for the quality of care they provide within these constraints.”
The NHS should not be treated like a business. It is a service that provides a huge benefit to all who live here, in the form of care and medical assistance. It’s inclusivity holds the value of life high for every person. Not to mention the great pride it is held with for many Britons. Who else would put their health service in their Olympic opening ceremony?
This portrayal of the NHS in the media and by politicians is being used to ease along a privatisation plan. A two-tier system with private health care next to free – where one life is valued more than the other – just as Ella Harman, a baby who died five days after her birth, suffered when the consultant obstetrician was called away to perform a caesarean. Ella’s parents assumed the caesarean must have been an emergency, as it caused the consultant to leave for forty minutes during Ella’s birth. However, six years later, after a Freedom of Information request, it was found that the only caesarean performed that day was not an emergency, but a requested caesarean section on a private patient.
This is the shape of a privatised NHS.
The media will continue to churn out it’s negative spin on the NHS as the government aims to push further with it’s own agenda. But what the media really don’t want you to know is that we still have one of the best health care services in the world. Fact.