A bleedin’ forriner’s view of the NHS
I have lived in the UK for over 20 years. I have worked and paid taxes here; loved and been dumped; complained about the weather; had Marmite on toast for breakfast and a strange meal called “supper”. I get very excited about test cricket and understand precisely where on the field is “silly mid-on”. I queue religiously at the bus stop. I am still, however, and will always be a foreigner. There is compelling evidence of this: I eccentrically cling to the notion of rinsing crockery after washing up; I see nothing funny and plenty frightening and dysfunctional in seasonal panto; I refuse to be the same nationality as Richard Littlejohn.
Through an extraordinary process of diaspora I have family in the US, Greece, Scandinavia, even China at the moment. I, myself, have lived in four European countries. There are advantages inherent in my almost-traveller-status. One of them is having observed certain British quirks as an adult – the biggest and most singular of them being the NHS. I was not born into it. I do not take it for granted. I don’t remember the good ol’ days. I still recall with wonder the first time I was treated in a hospital and the surprise and relief of not having to deal with a bill at my frailest and most terrified. I wish to share my observations with you.
Some years ago my back collapsed. Vertebrae L2 and L3 decided they had had enough of my revising for law school final exams, packed up, gave me two fingers and went out. I was doing nothing dramatic when this happened, as is often the case. I turned to pick something up and went down. The pain was of such intensity that I became convinced I would die. It took me 20 minutes to crawl to the phone and call for help through my sobs. I hit my head and it bled profusely. I was in my underpants. Helpless, shivering, creating a pink bubble in a pool of my own blood each time I exhaled. I vaguely remember someone breaking the door down, fainting twice as they tried to lift me. The experience of being given morphine I remember vividly – the instant addiction.
Over the next few hours a group of Angels soothed my broken body, took the pain away and in a few days, with the help of an osteopath paid for by the state, I was well enough to take my exams and graduated with a first. And so, I feel quite protective of this thing that is not even mine. Not yours either. Everyone’s. This service paid for by your mothers and your grandfathers in the hope that they would leave the world a little better for you, illness a little easier to bear, death less painful.
So, before you decide that dismantling this rare physical manifestation of humanity is a good idea, make sure that you are not leaving the world a little worse for your children and theirs. And, above all, make sure it is as informed a decision as possible. The Conservative Party has received 3/4 of a million in funding from private Healthcare Provider interests in the last year. John Nash, chairman of Care UK has given the Tories over £200k in the last five years, as has Dolar Popat, founder and chief of the TLC Group, just before he was handed a peerage by Cameron. Popat’s contributions include a gift of £25k in July, registered a week after the reforms were announced. The man that is spearheading this ill-thought review is Andrew Lansley. John Nash and his wife contributed £21k to Lansley’s private office in November. A spokesman for Mr Lansley said: “[d]onations from private individuals in no way influence policy-making decisions.”
The current government has a different view to mine. They present a picture of an entire service populated by incompetent doctors, cruel consultants, complacent nurses; all supervised by this nefarious group called “managers”. Their spin doctors are secure in the knowledge that all of us have had an incompetent or interfering manager and so, on the most superficial level, the campaign resonates. They say that they are simply creating competition by opening up services to the private sector. But the private sector will choose where to compete: quick turn-around, lucrative treatment. It may become easier to get a nose-job than to be treated for cancer.
Of course there are bad doctors and bad nurses. But there are also scores of thousands of good ones; kind ones; sleep-deprived and underpaid ones. Of course there are superfluous layers of bureaucracy. But we must ask ourselves what our own contribution has been to that. Whether we are an active part of an increasingly litigious society that accepts no such thing as bad luck, accident or innocent mistake.
Before making up your mind, if only for an instant, please look at the NHS through the eyes of this bleedin’ forriner.
Next year we shall be living in a country
That brought its soldiers home for lack of money.
The statues will be standing in the same
Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same.
Our children will not know it’s a different country.
All we can hope to leave them now is money.
Homage to a Government