I guess you’ll all be familiar with those arcade machines at the seaside that consist of a large glass box filled with cuddly toys, complete with a claw which you must guide carefully so that it grasps one of the toys and drops it into a receptacle for you to collect. Have you ever tried one? The chances of actually winning a cuddly toy are about as remote as finding a Carmen Miranda lookalike in Scunthorpe! You put in your £1; you deftly attempt to position the claw over your chosen toy; once in position the claw descends as you wait in eager anticipation; then at the last minute the claw attempts to grasp the toy with all the firmness of a Larry Grayson handshake before retreating quickly back into its original position with nothing. Unperturbed by this minor hiccup, you continue to feed the machine pound after pound until an empty wallet and demoralisation set in and you finally leave empty-handed.
Those machines always remind me of the NHS: No matter how much money you put into it, it’ll never deliver the goods in a satisfactory manner. That is not a slur on the thousands of frontline staff who treat patients every day. Both my parents were nurses in the NHS for a good part of their working lives. No, my problem with the health service is its entire structure, together with the lack of political will to really give it the reforms its needs.
Take the announcement of an extra £20 billion for the NHS on its ’70th Birthday’. Despite the media hype and Opposition propaganda, spending on health in the UK is already at record levels. But it’s still not enough! When will it be enough? How many more years are we going to plough extra pound after extra pound into health provision in this country?
I identify three principal problems with the NHS:
1). The obscene amounts of waste and overpaid senior executives (two traits inherent in any lumbering public body). Look at some of the salaries advertised here in The Guardian.
How many of those enticed with £100,000+ salaries are employed in direct health provision?
2): People abusing the health service for cosmetic and/or the remedying of faux psychological issues. Hospitals and clinics are for treating genuine ailments – not for breast enhancements, sex change operations and tattoo removal. You want to see a doctor? Fine! Leave a £5 deposit. If you fail to keep the appointment, you lose your deposit. Fair enough?
3). Health tourism. Not only is the UK woeful when reclaiming the health costs of visiting foreign nationals, it must be the only country in the world where you can live here for all of two minutes, pay not one penny in tax, yet avail of every NHS provision going!
Most voters will see the extra £20 billion as a positive step. For the NHS is strangely regarded as something just below godliness here in Britain. As far as politicians are concerned, the answer is always to throw more of our money at it in the hope we’ll sit back and give thanks for the ‘wonderful NHS’. Perhaps most of us will. But I won’t. I’ll continue to regard the institution as a failing system of health provision, rooted in socialist ideology, where both patients and frontline staff get a raw deal because there’s no political inclination to take the damn thing by the throat and shake out the very problems that make it a sinkhole of public funding.