Brand denial: the NHS has failed

Admittedly it could have been many people, but this time it was a comedian with a background in psychiatry in denial about Britain's disastrous NHS

by Yorker on 7 December 2012 14:58

Undoubtedly she hit the deadline for her piece on the NHS in today's Guardian, but boy did she miss the point.

Comedian, writer and actress Jo Brand is certainly no exception in extolling the "virtues" of what is possibly the worst health system in the West, but one item on her CV jumped out with sufficient force to merit further comment: she used to be a psychiatric nurse.

Now, that doesn't make her Carl Jung. But, she must have observed denial at close enough quarters to understand that suppressing a painful truth to the point that you can no longer see it has never done anyone any good it all. Denial about the failings of the NHS is a national pastime.

Her piece is on nursing, and bounces off the horrendous recent case of Labour MP Ann Clwyd's husband who died in hospital of "hospital-acquired pneumonia" while nurses seemingly ignored his plight. Died "like a battery hen", was how Ms Clwyd talked of the death of her husband as the nurses "treated" him with "coldness, resentment, indifference and even contempt".

"I had to put my own Lypsyl on his lips because they became so chapped …by the cold air the mask pumped out and there were no nurses around. It was us, not the nurses, who put a pillow between him and the bars of the bed because the bed was too small and he was jammed so tightly against the bars," she was quoted by the Guardian as saying.

We know that terrible things can happen in all countries. No system is perfect. But these sorts of reports are becoming routine in Britain and it is about time we started to see the problem as systemic rather than merely about isolated instances.

Britain has some of the worst cancer survival rates in Europe, and we're not just talking about Western Europe. Some of the former communist countries of the EU are now in the process of overtaking Britain in terms of some types of cancer.

If you have a heart attack, you're more likely to survive it in Poland than in Britain.

Jo Brand wants to blame the problems in the NHS on issues such as poor management, contracting-out and privatisation.

The fact is that poor healthcare outcomes in Britain are a direct result of the historic wrong turn this country took after the second world war in adopting a top-down, socialist approach to the provision of healthcare. Not even Social Democrats in western Europe took that route -- opting instead for a much greater mix between the private and the public sectors.

That's why they get better outcomes and better care. And until we step out of denial about this reality, we will continue to hold on to a system that is literally bad for our health.

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