Misleading People about the NHS
In the run-up to Britain’s General Election next month, the competing claims of politicians can be scrutinised to see if they would use power for the benefit of the population. The political parties have made competing pledges to spend money, notably on the NHS, but there are some hidden agendas.
Several senior figures in the Conservative Party are (possibly sincere) advocates of neoliberalism: a belief that free markets reflect people’s personal desires and prevent governments from imposing their own ideas. This is a libertarian pursuit of individual freedom, which finds a home in Britain’s Conservative Party and America’s Republican Party in demands for less tax, smaller government and laissez-faire (126.96.36.199).
The ideological purity of neoliberalism must be questioned, though, because it can conceal something uglier: a corporate pursuit of profit at the expense of most of the population. Drugs companies and health insurance companies make vast profits through America’s private healthcare but the population is much less well served – as revealed by a BBC Reality Check, Does UK spend half as much on health as US?:
“the US spent 17.2% of its GDP on healthcare in 2016, compared with 9.7% in the UK”
“…in 2014, average life expectancy at birth in the USA was 78.8, compared with 81.4 in the UK”.
It clearly wouldn’t serve Britain well to follow America’s example: to have a system that costs more and doesn’t offer equal cover to everyone – yet there is a (not openly admitted) policy to privatise the NHS, following the recommendations in a paper published by Conservative MPs Oliver Letwin and John Redwood in 1988: Britain’s Biggest Enterprise: ideas for radical reform of the NHS. This suggests that the government should “work slowly from the present system towards a national insurance scheme” starting with “the establishment of the NHS as an independent trust, with increased joint ventures between the NHS and the private sector” (page 19). The current government is following this plan, as revealed by one doctor in an article: The NHS is on a one-way road to privatisation.
The recently-published Conservative NHS policy, published with many pictures of the Prime Minister appearing to consult with smiling NHS staff, promises to “spend £13 billion” to build “40 new hospitals”. Reading further down the announcement, though, the plan is for less:
“Six hospital builds are getting the full go-ahead now, and a further thirty four new build projects are receiving seed funding to kick start their schemes”.
The pledge shrinks further when examining one of the “six hospital builds”. The Epsom and St Helier Trust “hospital build”, in an area with an expanding population, is not what one might suppose. Local people have found out what The Prime Minister’s Misleading Statement means:
“The pledge is not money for a new hospital, but the process by which they intend to downgrade two major Acute hospitals, and offer us less than one in their place. … On offer is ONLY a new “acute facility”, not a hospital. … The proposed new “acute facility” would be: Smaller; Have Fewer beds; Be served by fewer Consultants; Would be located on one site, instead of the two sites we currently benefit from; Would only be accessible via Ambulance; Would be further away from most people.”
This describes an ideologically-driven project to privatise and reduce the public service offered by the NHS. Clearly the population will not benefit (although some private companies will have an opportunity to make a profit).
There is also some doubt about whether the government is offering any new money, bearing in mind a report in June 2018: NHS funding: Theresa May unveils £20bn boost. And the Conservatives have been in power for nine years, yet the BBC reports Hospital waiting times at worst-ever level.
This policy statement on the NHS is yet another example of how Boris Johnson is, at best, careless with the truth – in keeping with his performance in the 2016 Referendum on EU membership, as previously described on this website: Lies, statistics and self-interest. He makes claims that sound good but he doesn’t have most people’s best interests at heart.
The British government’s management of the COVID-19 crisis has not been good. Britain has had more deaths in relation to the size of its population than any other major country in the world, reportedly due to “’Poor decisions’ to blame for UK death toll, scientists say”. Part of the problem has been an inappropriate use of private companies rather than the NHS. The most glaring example of this is the government’s privately-provided Test and Trace programme, where it is reasonable to ask: “Is Test And Trace Really Worth £22bn A Year?” There is now good news though, according to a document leaked to the BBC: “Government plans to reverse Cameron-era reforms”. Perhaps this change this change of heart is because the NHS has made a very good job of managing the vaccine roll-out, vividly illustrating the competence of the public sector in this case.