NHS worship is costing lives

Security services, bankers, politicians, and journalists are all subject to scrutiny. So why is our National Health Service immune?

Neglect at Mid Staffs hospital has led potentially to hundreds of deaths
Alex Wickham, UK Politics Editor
On 26 June 2013 08:02

An opaque, unaccountable state institution is mired in scandal; positions of trust have been abused and crimes have been committed. We only know about this thanks to the efforts of a controversial whistleblower. It is only right that we must now have a serious, comprehensive public debate about what to do given the information that has come to light.

On Edward Snowden’s allegations against our security services and the claims made against the Metropolitan Police concerning Stephen Lawrence, quite rightly, debates are now taking place. Just as they did with the financial sector after 2008, just as they did with the expenses scandal, and just as they did with the press regarding phone-hacking.

Why, then, following the truly disturbing events of recent weeks and months, is our National Health Service immune from comparable scrutiny?

The intelligence community, police, banks, politics and media have been subject to a quite literally existential discussion. Should we rein in the powers of our spies, should we have a public inquiry into our cops, should we pass new laws for our bankers, should we recall corrupt politicians, should we roll back centuries of rights for our journalists?

Yet merely ask if we should take another look at how we provide healthcare for our citizens, and you become some sort of social pariah.

No one died as a result of the – still unproven – NSA surveillance of private communications, just as no one died due to phone-hacking or the banks going bust. If Stephen Lawrence’s murder is a tragedy, it is surely as worthy of public outcry as the loss of thousands at Mid-Staffs and Morecambe Bay. With our NHS, Stalin’s maxim on deaths and statistics rings dangerously true.

The truth is that Britain has succumbed to a perverse, possibly irreversible, culture when it comes to the NHS. For six decades our children have been brought up believing they are the lucky ones; just imagine what it would be like to live in one of those other countries where they aren’t so fortunate. Have the insubordination to suggest reform and you are silenced immediately. Do any more than that and you might have a family grave desecrated or be sent off for a secret mental health assessment. What next, reeducation camps and public struggle sessions?

In reality Danny Boyle’s jingoistic insistence that the NHS is the “envy of the world” is proven false by the simple telling fact that no other developed country has sought to copy our system of healthcare.

This culture of worship, as Ian Birrell describes it, cost lives. Imagine if there was a social stigma against questioning our security services, our police, our politicians or our bankers. How unhealthy that would be for a free, democratic country. It simply does not make sense that we refuse to extend that inquisitive, cynical mindset – a mindset that has kept Britain free from tyranny throughout history – when it comes to looking after the most vulnerable people in our society.

The status quo is no longer good enough. Breaking this dangerous culture of conformity, of worship, so we can talk properly about how we provide healthcare for our sick, is imperative. Surely that is not too much to ask.

Alex Wickham is the UK Political Correspondent for The Commentator. He tweets at @WikiGuido

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