Despite the understandable cacophony about particular issues around the coalition government’s cuts-fuelled policies (tuition fees, tax evasion, funding for respite to name but a few), it seems that concern about the ‘reforms’ to the NHS is only just about starting to catch the mainstream media’s attention.
The NHS is a complicated system – one of the accusations levelled against it by its critics – but I’d argue we’re lucky enough to have one of the better and cheaper health care systems in the world. We only spend around 9% of GDP on healthcare, compared to nearly double that in the US, and as general rule it works pretty well.
It’s certainly not perfect, if perfection is defined as 100% efficient and profit-making. Arguably no welfare system that treats everyone equally regardless of class, ethnicity, gender or income will ever reach this hallowed nirvana. Indeed few private sector organisations achieve this either, when you take into account ‘waste’ such as senior level pay for instance.
Nevertheless, what it lacks in capitalist-inspired precision, it makes up for in simple principle. If I were to break a leg on the way down the stairs, I know that I could turn up at A&E, get x-rayed, have a cast whacked on, have a few checks up over the next few months, and some physiotherapy to get me back on my feet. And this is without having to panic about having scrimped on medical insurance. Or whether I’ll be mistreated because the staff hired to look after me are paid minimum wage to increase profit margins. I know this because I’ve been through it.
For this reason, the NHS is something of a sacred cow in British consciousness, not unlike the Royal Mail. So it should come as no surprise why the coalition government (to be fair, mostly the Conservatives) are playing down the way they plan to systematically dismantle it as a public good bit-by-bit.
To avoid dissent in their support base, the NHS will certainly remain in some form – as a logo plastered onto the buildings and staff of the very private healthcare providers that were so generous to the Conservatives’ pre-election. The Tories know the trust people place in the NHS brand – so they are using it to surreptitiously pass off their friends’ companies as state-providers.
There’s a lot of nitty-gritty detail and politicians’ spin in the Government’s plans for the NHS, but I don’t think I can stress enough how historically fundamental the changes will be. They will affect everyone – everyone, that is, but the wealthiest.
So, in a vain attempt to give an overview and to clarify the disgruntled ramblings my friends and colleagues have been subject to over the last few months, I’m going to write another post summarising some of the key changes and what I think they are likely to mean.
NHS restructuring isn’t the sexiest of policy areas for passionate debate, and probably won’t compete with arguments over EMA and libraries when vying for conversation topics, but it’s for this very reason that people need to know about it.
Watch this space.