Britain’s infantile debate on its disastrous National Health Service

Report: elderly patients going hungry, call bells going unanswered, people forced to defecate next to their beds, nurses forgetting to distribute water.

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The Ipswich Hospital
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The Commentator
On 26 May 2011 10:05

The British media is awash with indignation today. A new report from a watchdog group called the Care Quality Commission has made some shocking revelations about the treatment of the elderly in Britain’s state-run health system, The National Health Service (NHS).

Try these for size: a quarter of hospitals surveyed do not meet basic standards required by law; at the Royal Free Hospital in London call bells are often out of the reach of patients, and sometimes aren’t answered anyway; at the Ipswich hospital patients have to use commodes by the sides of their beds because nurses are too busy to take them to the toilet; at the Alexandra Hospital in Worcestershire elderly patients had their food left out of reach, resulting in hunger; in the same hospital doctors frequently had to make out prescriptions for water because nurses were forgetting to provide sufficient fluids; (according to the Daily Mail 816 patients died in hospital in 2009 from dehydration).

When do the people of Britain say enough is enough? Depressingly, if the past is any guide to the present and the future, the answer to that question is “never”.

Two weeks ago we at the Commentator wrote about the scene at Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons which featured a “Conservative Prime Minister locked in battle with a Labour opposition leader over who could outbid the other in their commitment to the kind of state-socialist monolith that practically everyone else in the Western world derides as ludicrous.”

That’s the state of play as far as serious discussion about health policy in Britain is concerned – there is no serious discussion. A political intelligentsia dominated by the liberal-left has made it a hanging offence to look at different options. A senior minister would lose his job, instantaneously, even for raising the subject. “Privatisation” is not just a dirty word, it’s heresy.

And all you have to do is look across Europe to see that there clearly are better alternatives. France, Germany, Austria, even Sweden all give a far greater role to the private sector, with many continental countries allowing private insurance companies to compete with each other under the umbrella of a state guarantee of free access at the point of use.

The result is that survival rates for a whole range of cancers are significantly higher than in Britain, waiting lists are shorter, you’re much less likely to die of thirst, and when nature makes its call on you, you’re not simply handed a potty and told to get on with it.

Bear in mind, that not one of the formerly communist countries of central and eastern Europe chose the British system when deciding on how to rebuild their health services in the aftermath of the Soviet era. Many of those countries (even with fewer resources at their disposal) are now starting to do better in the treatment of certain cancers and heart attacks than Britain.

But if Britain insists on a Soviet-style health system, it must learn to live with Soviet-style standards of care.

In the end, the health policy debate is controversial everywhere. But in no Western country that we know of is it ring-fenced by such rigid ideological parameters as in Britain. And the results are there for all to see.  

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