Thursday, February 07, 2013

The disgrace that is the British NHS

All the papers are full of just a few of the woes that afflict the National Health Service in Britain this morning.

Some of us foresaw the problems arising a long, long time ago, and in that respect I thought it worth quoting a passage from my novel, written in the mid to late nineteen-nineties, mainly about an EU crisis, but here touching upon the trickly politics regarding NHS and its role in the British psyche:

NHS from Millennium Blitzkrieg

Seeking urgent public spending cuts the Conservative PM and his Chancellor meet in the former's  Downing Street flat: (Page 84 of the novel which was set in the year 2014):

“Well, I’ve one crazy idea, but you’re not going to like it.”
“Go on then!”
“The National Health Service,” David hesitantly muttered.
“The NHS!” Michael looked astounded. “What about the NHS?”
“Well,” David reluctantly continued, “it’s by far the largest item in our budget and we don’t really get a lot for it. Let’s face it, governments have coddled it for nearly seventy years and thrown cash at it like there’s no tomorrow. In spite of all that money you couldn’t really say the country has got anything like an adequate health care program. Waiting lists seem to get longer and longer. Every time there is an outbreak of flu hospital corridors fill with patients and ambulances queue for miles. Meantime we train nurses to leave and then sign on with agencies at rates we can’t afford to pay. There’s tremendous scope for huge cuts in spending you know…..” He trailed off seeing a thunderous look on Michael’s face.
“We can’t meddle with the NHS!” Michael exploded. “Do you want me to go down in history as the man who committed electoral suicide and destroyed his own party? What the hell are you suggesting? Pull the plug on it!”
“Not totally,” David explained, seeing it was too late to go back. “I see it as a bit like the Royal Yacht Britannia at the end of the last century….a source of tremendous public pride and affection, but nevertheless so old and decrepit that no amount of extra money, repairs or even replacement parts can salvage it. Sooner or later someone’s going to have to bite the bullet and send it to the scrap yard.”
“Well, that someone is definitely not going to be me,” Michael somewhat less loudly asserted. “What in heaven’s name are you proposing to do with the sick?”
“I’ve only just started to formulate my ideas, but what I had in mind was to announce no further funding, hand the titles of the hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and other fixed assets entirely over to the medical staff employed in them as compensation for loss of salary. They could then keep on the administrators as they see fit and charge for their services as they deem appropriate. We would save billions of pounds and could reduce the standard rate of tax quite substantially, once the EU funding crisis is over, to help people meet their medical bills.”
Michael stared at David as though he’d taken on the form of an alien from outer space. “What about the pensioners and the poorer people? They’re to be left to die in their beds, I presume?”
“No, no!” David countered, heartily wishing he’d never started the conversation. “I believe there should be some form of safety net, but in the short term we’d have to rely on a bit of social engineering by the doctors themselves. Veterinarian surgeons have been doing it for years. Little old ladies from council flats with only their pets for company rarely meet the costs of expensive surgery or other treatment. These costs invariably are re-proportioned, probably ending up as a little extra charge on a wealthy farmer or race horse breeder’s bill.”
Michael regarded his colleague and finally exhaled. “Sometimes, David, I wonder if you’re really cut out for politics. Things are not always as simple as in Big Oil, you know.”
“That’s a bit rich, Michael. After all, your instructions on giving me this coordination job were to think the unthinkable and rule nothing out, however drastic.”
Michael, seeing the hurt look on David’s face, smiled and quickly apologised. “I’m sorry. You’re right, of course. I guess this whole business is putting me on edge. Let’s just keep that idea of yours as a very last resort and mention it no further outside this room.”


Whether my forecast of a terminal crisis for the EU in 2014 turns out equally accurate, of course, yet remains to be seen! Although looking pretty certain this morning in my view.


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