NHS problems, all sorted

nhs-logoThe other day I read Dr Pemberton’s article The Biggest Problem With Our Crumbling NHS? Everyone Thinks It’s Free.

That reminded me of the American writer William F. Buckley, who once put down a Moscow tour guide proudly telling him that healthcare in the Soviet Union was free. “Nothing is free, child,” said Buckley, in his usual supercilious manner.

Now, being an incurable pedant, I unfailingly turn the page when reading sentences like “One patient of mine failed to show for a Saturday appointment they’d begged for.” Who did the begging, Dr Pemberton? The patient or the mysterious ‘they’?

As a lifelong champion of PC, I naturally accept that unwarranted use of singular personal pronouns (with the possible exception of ‘its’) should be treated as a felony. But presumably Dr Pemberton knew the patient’s sex, which surely would have qualified as a mitigating circumstance if he faced trial for using ‘he’ or ‘she’.

However, the offensive sentence came in the middle of the article, while at the beginning I felt I’d found a soulmate.

“I have absolutely no interest in… ensuring the survival of the current system simply because of ideology,” wrote Dr Pemberton. Neither do I, I thought, overlooking at first the word ‘simply’, which should have put me on guard.

That word suggests that, in addition to ideology, the current system ought to survive for other, more substantial, reasons. But they don’t exist. The NHS was founded by socialists as purely an ideological construct, and it indeed survives “simply because of ideology”.

Socialism is based on lies, and it’s true to form in this area. The impression conveyed by NHS champions is that until 1948, when all NHS services came on stream, people had been dying in the streets like stray dogs.

In fact, when medical care in the UK went socialist, we had about 400,000 hospital beds. Now, 68 years later, we have 150,000, even though the population has since grown by 14 million, and we have millions of visitors for whom the NHS is indeed free.

Nor did outpatients have to wait weeks for GP appointments, which is a norm today – and they were prescribed drugs strictly on therapeutic, rather than financial, bases.

Moreover – are you ready for this? – the rich and the poor received the same drugs, which is far from being the case in the supposedly egalitarian NHS, with its postcode approach to healing.

The problem with the NHS is that it’s a megalomaniac structure sitting on the subsiding, termite-eaten foundation of a defunct ideology. Hence the only solution would be to slide it off that foundation and into the real world, where the private and public components of healthcare complement each other.

To his credit, Dr Pemberton knows how awful the NHS is. He bemoans the on-going closures of hospitals along with emergency and maternity units. The NHS, he says, “is becoming increasingly unsafe”.

And yet: “The NHS is, broadly speaking, the cheapest and fairest system, so it would be wrong to simply try to move to another model entirely”. Not just PC solecisms but split infinitives as well – a soulmate first found and then lost.

And it isn’t just grammar: he doesn’t seem to understand the difference between fair (or ‘equitable’, used in an earlier sentence) and the same for all. A poor man treated by top doctors in a municipal hospital is being treated equitably – even if a rich man is treated by the same doctors in a private room complete with extensive menus and wine lists.

Yes, the NHS costs less per capita than medical care does in most developed nations. But then no medical care at all would be even cheaper – and the NHS is clearly gravitating towards this cost-saving measure.

Yet what Dr Pemberton is proposing is just a bit of tinkering. First, he says, we should solve the NHS’s “biggest problem” by realising that it’s free only at the point of delivery, not in absolute terms.

Really? And I thought that no one had to pay for those CT scans and IVF treatments, that they all came courtesy of Father Christmas. In fact, I didn’t think that – and neither did anyone else with an IQ above 70.

But fine, we’ve solved the metaphysical problem of the NHS by recognising that we pay for it through taxes. What now? How do we translate our new-found wisdom into concrete physical steps?

Dr Pemberton’s suggestions are risible. The government should spend millions on “a national campaign” telling people “how much drugs and treatments cost” – and then admonish them paternalistically whenever they miss an appointment, like Dr Pemberton’s patient with their [sic] plural personality.

That’s it. Sorted. The NHS survives and thrives.

If the first part of Dr Pemberton’s solution treats us like fools, the second seems to assume we’re clinically retarded. How much of the £116.4-billion NHS budget would his penny-pinching save? Would it even pay for the cost of the “national campaign”?

I’m afraid Dr Pemberton is in the thrall of the same ideology he professes to decry. This prevents him from realising that, in his language, the problem with the NHS is systemic, not merely symptomatic.

What he’s suggesting is tantamount to treating brain cancer with two aspirins. I’m afraid improving our pathetic healthcare will take more than ill-considered palliatives.

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