Nasty, as in the NHS

The good news is that Oliver Kamm no longer writes about English usage. The bad news is that he now writes about other things.

The NHS is a great deal – if you don’t happen to be bleeding too fast

That’s a sign of a true polymath: he could write rubbish on every subject. Such as, this time around, the NHS.

“Private healthcare is no match for our fair and efficient NHS,” says his article, and anyone wishing to preserve his sanity would be well-advised not to read any further. I put mine on the line because the subject is close to my heart (and most other organs in my body).

As someone with ample experience on the receiving end of both private medicine and the NHS, I can testify that Kamm simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Then again, this has never prevented him from making weighty pronouncements.

For a self-proclaimed expert in matters linguistic, he doesn’t even use words properly. ‘Fair’ doesn’t actually mean the same for all. It means everyone getting what he deserves, and I don’t think, to cite a personal example, I deserved not to have my gangrenous gall bladder diagnosed for three days in an NHS hospital.

Nor did I deserve being treated like livestock thrown together in a barn, which is the nearest analogy to my ward of some 30 people, men and women together. Even overcrowded Soviet hospitals didn’t go unisex.

And my beloved mother-in-law didn’t deserve dying of MRSA, generously presented by one of our “fair and efficient” NHS hospitals. In the old days, before our medical care became “fair and efficient”, hospital-acquired infections were unheard of, mainly because matrons enforced the strictest standards of hygiene. These have fallen by the wayside.

As with any socialist enterprise, those who do the actual work play second fiddle to the administrators. A friend of mine, an NHS doctor, told me a few years ago that his hospital had cut the number of beds for lack of funds. At the same time, the hospital hired a director of diversity for £90,000 a year plus benefits.

Doctors and nurses get the impression they are extraneous to the true business of the NHS: increasing state control. That’s why they leave in droves: by current calculations, the NHS is short of about 100,000 frontline staff.

The deficit is being made up by importing thousands of foreign medics, many of whom are grossly underqualified and can’t even speak English properly. One such nurse once brought me a highly toxic mouthwash and told me to swallow it. Had I followed her advice, you’d be spared my vituperative prose now.

Third-world standards are even more noticeable in primary care. Good GPs are running away from the NHS at an Olympic speed: last year almost 600 fled, and this kind of drain has been going on for years.

The reason is simple: doctors want to do medicine, rather than admin. Yet the NHS, like all socialist concerns, is obsessed with bureaucratic wheel-spinning. As a result, the head of my local practice, the best GP I’ve ever known, left in disgust – more than half of his time was taken up by filling idiotic forms.

Because of its socialist genesis, the NHS hospitably throws its doors open to all and sundry from all over the world. That’s why the number of appointments goes up just as the number of GPs goes down.

Hence, even though the remaining doctors kill themselves working impossible hours and spending no more than 10 minutes per patient, we have to wait for appointments longer than in any other civilised country. Between January and March this year, 12.3 million appointments were completed 15 or more days after they had been booked.

To the likes of Kamm, ‘fair’ is a synonym for ‘socialist’, so no surprises there. But how does he justify the claim to efficiency, something that private care, with its short waiting times for both appointments and procedures, allegedly can’t match?

Simple. He bases it on cost-per-patient figures, which in Britain are “around the median” for the developed countries. Comparing the two systems I happen to know well from personal experience, he cites a cost of £2,989 in Britain and £3,737 in France.

Well, at least the French get more for their money. Generally, one can see a GP the same day or the next one at the latest. And in both my hospital stays in France I found myself in either private or semi-private rooms – and my neighbours in the semi-private ones were men, not women.

Another semantic nuance that seems to escape Kamm is that ‘efficient’ doesn’t mean ‘cheap’. In this context, it means either providing more service for the same amount or at least the same service for less.

Neither of these conditions pertains in the NHS, which is why, by Kamm’s own mournful admission, “no other country has adopted the British model of healthcare”. And there I was, thinking the NHS is the envy of the world.

“There is a good economic case for the NHS,” he claims, which is tantamount to saying that Britons aren’t overcharged for the privilege of dying of MRSA in unisex hospital wards, having the lowest cancer-survival rates in Europe and having to wait weeks for a GP appointment.

Even if we accept his figures, which I for one find hard to do, I’d say the NHS (the world’s biggest employer, by the way) is too dear at the price. The only case that can be made for it is ideological – and in that area Kamm is a past master. Whatever his subject.   

2 thoughts on “Nasty, as in the NHS”

  1. The understanding in the USA is that if you can afford to do so, you consult the GP or other practitioner in the UK rather than rely on FREE NHS. FREE as usual not really free. The taxpayers with their taxes pay for the system. But it is fair? Everyone gets poor care equally?

    1. That’s right, people who can afford it (and even some who can’t, such as me) go private. But that means the thousands they pay for private insurance go on top the 12 per cent of their income that the state extorts. And in this case, free means that, rather than paying for medical care direct, one pays through the state acting as a megalomaniac middleman. ‘Free’ in general is a misnomer. No products or services are ever free — even if there’s no charge at point of purchase.

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