Monday, 4 April 2011

NHS - A Service I'm Proud Of

On the 4th page of the 2010 election Conservative Party manifesto, the first one with information on after two with the title and logo and one with a black and white photo of Cameron hard at work, it says these words "Only together can we protect the NHS".

David Cameron today made some noises about backing down on the NHS reforms proposed by Andrew Lansley. At the moment though noises are all it is and i won't believe that Cameron has seen the error of his ways and is actually going to stick to his pre-election pledge to protect the NHS until he's out of office/retired/his plutonium core runs out of juice.

The threat to the NHS is perhaps the most worrying thing about the entire coalition. I was passionately opposed to the rise in tuition fees, i was angry when Cameron proposed that volunteers take up the running of libraries no longer able to afford to stay open, i was frustrated when the coalition let companies like Vodafone off billions of £'s worth of taxes owed to the country and i was unsurprised when it was announced that the family debt burden would soar thanks to Osbourne's budget. But all of that pales in comparison with how i feel about the proposed moves towards increasing privatisation of the NHS.

Of all the many things that make our country great, i'd rank the NHS amongst the most important. It may be far from perfect, there may be a need for some restructuring; but it's moving away from excessively complicated management organisations and putting more money into beds, doctors and nurses so that they can do their job.

He may not have the name of a heroic leader or a nation changing politician, but that's exactly what Clement Atlee was. The Labour Prime Minister's legacy to the country is arguably only topped in terms of 20th century leaders of our country by Churchill and Thatcher respectively.

He, more than any other leader, helped create the welfare state as we know it. There are faults with it, no welfare system is perfect and it has been exploited by people at both ends of the social spectrum, but it is something i'm immensely proud of.

I've spent a lot of time looking at the health care system in the US and in my opinion any move towards that is a very worrying move in the wrong direction. To claim privatised healthcare systems exploit the poor while serving the rich is an over simplification, but any system where your access to health care is related to your pay check will inevitably favour the wealthy. In the US it's estimated to cost $12,000 per year to insure a family of four, pharmaceutical companies wield terrifying levels of power and influence and people suffer for years with treatable illnesses simply because they can't afford the treatment.

What's being proposed by Lansley isn't anything near that level, but it is definitely a move towards it, it opens the door to companies like Care UK to extend their power over the NHS and it will force GPs to spend more time being middle men between the NHS and private healthcare companies, than seeing patients. In the Conservative manifesto they explicitly state that increasing the availability of GP's is important, yet key elements of the reforms run counter to that.

The British Medical Association is advocating "evolution over revolution" in the NHS, with 61% of the doctors who replied to their online poll believing that the reforms would lead to them spending less time with their patients.

I believe that both on ideological and practical levels, the NHS is something that must be defended. Both the Coalition and the previous Labour government have seemed to try and suggest that free market competition makes everything run better, something which i've never seen any concrete evidence for when it comes to structures as complex and important as the NHS.

From my understanding of the proposed reforms they seem to be simply a recipe for a more fragmented and confused system, where patients see less of their doctors and private companies interests begin to be placed above the crucial factor of the level of care being provided.

Two articles i've read (1 in the Guardian, 1 in the Financial Times) have suggested that NHS reforms could be the Coalitions equivalent of the Poll Tax. I think it's possible it could be in the sense that when historians look back it could prove to be the moment the coalition lost any chance of recapturing the public's support as the recession drags on, Osbourne's cuts hit poor and middle class families hard and the nations young adults are saddled with crippling debts just for the opportunity to go to higher education. Attacking the NHS, when their popularity is already shaky could prove to be the final straw.

Cameron needs to wake up to the fact that he didn't win the election out right, even with an abysmally poor Labour party as opposition he couldn't win a majority and a large proportion of his votes were as much a vote for generic change as any particular enthusiasm for the Conservatives. If you consider that the majority of both the Lib Dems and Labour are opposed to these reforms, and between them they got 52% of the vote in the 2010 election, you could argue that just within the people who voted for the two other main parties there is a majority of the nation that didn't vote for these proposals.

To finish this blog i'll post the only song that's really appropriate, the superb Andrew Lansley rap. Got to love a bit of politically charged protest music.

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