There is a great deal about the United Kingdom that as a nation we can be exceptionally proud of. Our culture, music, sports, industry, politics and arts have for a long time influenced people throughout the world. For me though, our nation’s greatest achievement was in the creation of our National Health Service (the NHS), but now it seems it is in very real danger of being privatised out of existence.
For decades now we’ve been hearing about a funding crisis in the NHS, about tough decisions relating to new treatments that couldn’t be afforded on the NHS. So with this backdrop, the slow creeping privatisation of the NHS has begun, often touted as the answer to its funding issues.
The arguments for the privatisation of the NHS can often seem sound. The most compelling of which being that private companies providing the services may cost the tax payer less, however the accountants balance sheet doesn’t tell the whole story. Why does it cost less is the key question? It must be significantly less too as companies need to also bring in a good profit for their shareholders. The simple truth is we are not talking about a like-for-like service. If you have a serious health issue, there is a vast difference in the care you would receive from a highly experienced, properly paid NHS team that have worked together for many years, compared to the team of a private company, employing staff of lesser experience to their lower costs.
A second aspect of efficiency often put forward is superior private sector management. However, organisations in the private sector often achieve their efficiencies through scale, by making their companies larger through acquisitions, and removing the duplication within two organisations. Fragmenting the NHS into so many autonomous parts must surely be a less efficient model, privately or publicly run, as it must require far more management. As a fragmented service the NHS can no longer look at patients’ health in a holistic manner either, no longer work together as one NHS team to help keep people well.
Crucially if there are real saving to be made in the NHS through efficiency, then surely privatisation isn’t the answer, as extra money found through ‘efficiencies’ should be directed back toward the front-line staff and treatments, and not into profits for corporations. Indeed surely it’s morally wrong for any company to profiteer from lucrative NHS contracts when this money could be spent on treating more people with cancer for example.
Now on this road to privatisation, you also have to ask yourself where is the destination? Where will they draw a line? At what point will this privatisation end, or will further privatisation always be the answer to any funding issues within the NHS? Those currently in power seemingly praise the NHS in public, all the while tearing it apart behind the scenes. It’s clear some are fundamentally opposed to public healthcare all together, so I can only imagine we will eventually finish with a health system funded by private health insurance. Much like tuition fees that arrived with a cap, but soon after exploding into eye watering fees for which students have to borrow heavily to fund, I can certainly now see a time when health insurance becomes the biggest outgoing for families after rents and mortgages, as it is in the United States, and we can truly say the NHS no longer exists in any form. In the defence of the current government, I would have to say the problems of the NHS cannot entirely be put at the door of this Conservatives, indeed their zealous pursuit of privatisation of NHS services of late, means it’s easy to forget that New Labour signed some 103 PFI deals for the NHS when in office, and it was a Labour Health Minister which ushered in the first NHS Trusts, beginning the fragmentation of NHS services into small autonomous parts.
In conclusion, the great staff of the NHS safely brought my children into this world, and cared for my father for many years prior to him leaving it. They put their arms around my family when we lost our baby, and cared for our son William in his early days as he was born poorly. I have always had the highest regard for the NHS, but even more so as a parent, and I really now fear losing it to privatisation. It’s already talked about by many in historic terms, but I can’t help but feel that the NHS has given us a glimpse of how society will care for one another in the future. Rich or poor, regardless of gender, age or ethnicity, it cares for the health of every single person in our country. It’s a great, almost utopian ideal that a past generation made a reality, but which we have so far failed when passed the baton, but its time our politicians picked it back up. If they finally listen to the professionals that deliver health services on the ground, and give them the support they need and deserve, I’m absolutely positive they will deliver again an NHS that we can all be proud of, and that can be held up as a model around the world once more.