I read a great deal in local and national media about the NHS, much of it politicised by all sides, and seeming to do little but provide another layer of misinformation to the electorate. There are two great myths that I take objection to, the first is that oft peddled Labour line that the Conservatives will privatise the NHS.
Listeners of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme earlier this month (January 5th 2015) would have heard an interview with the Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham that exposed the untruths of Labour’s position on the NHS. He was informed that it was in fact Labour that allowed ‘any qualified provider’ to bid for NHS contracts. And most interestingly, that when the coalition entered government in 2010, just under 5% of contracts went to the private sector. During the five years that the Conservatives have been ‘privatising’ the NHS, that has risen to 6% of contracts.
From this information, it is relatively clear that it was in fact the Labour party (the party that allegedly wants to protect the NHS from the evils of privatisation) that made it possible for private companies to bid for NHS services. It is also clear that under Labour, far more NHS services were privatised than under the Conservatives. Yet if you were to read Labour publications, you would be led to believe that Labour was ideologically opposed to privatisation as it damages the NHS. It is apparent that nothing could be further from the truth!
The second myth is one I often encounter when I speak to non-British nationals, who heap praise on the idea of ‘free healthcare’ and tell me how lucky I am to live in such a society. In the last year, I have had to visit my GP on three occasions, all related to a sports injury which I would concede was partially my own fault. It was indeed free…apart from the hundreds of pounds that I pay through income tax. According to my HMRC tax breakdown, I was charged almost £300 per appointment.
What is the alternative? The fairest system that I can think of is allowing taxpayers to opt-out of the NHS. Give the taxpayer the choice of a private healthcare system, one where privately funded hospitals would compete with one another, driving up quality and driving down prices. Private medical insurance often works out cheaper than NHS tax contributions, but many taxpayers cannot afford both private coverage and to prop up the state health monopoly.
But wouldn’t the NHS suffer if taxpayers all flocked to a higher quality and lower cost system? Perhaps, but this could serve to prompt the NHS to become more efficient. It has also been reported that 70% of people would be willing to pay additional taxes to support the NHS, and these people, as well as those ideologically opposed to private healthcare, could remain opted-in should they so wish. The NHS would continue to treat all those who remain opted-in, regardless of their contributions to the system, as it does now.
The question I often ask the defenders of the NHS is this: If you could design a utopian society, would it have an NHS as we know it today? Often the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. They would support the creation of an entity that would absorb almost 20% of all government expenditure and that would employ 4.7% of the entire working population (based on NHS England and the latest ONS figures for English employment data) but less than a third of whom would be clinically qualified.
The NHS has become the sacred cow of British politics. Something that must be revered and protected at all cost, and for the taxpayer, that cost is inordinate.