Wednesday, July 17, 2013


I suspect I'm like quite a lot of people - I went for years hardly using the NHS at all, other than to sit in A&E for hours after hurting myself playing sport. And then I had kids, and I was in and out all the time: for the births, obviously; most scarily for three bouts of intensive care for my eldest; and most often for innoculations and reassurance and all the associated trimmings of small child care.

So #ILoveourNHS right? Well, not especially. On personal experience, it pretty much directly killed my grandfather (by taking him off his heart medication in preparation for an operation that they then cancelled, without putting him back on his meds, so that he died of a heart attack), having already partially paralysed my father by trapping a nerve when operating on his back. They didn't pick up on my mother's cancer either, but whether that made any great difference in the long run who knows. Everyone dies, after all.

But the thing is, that doctors and nurses are there to make you better, if they can, while fucking up as little as possible. That's their job. The NHS mostly does this reasonably well, relatively cheaply. On the other hand, it's institutional size means that when things go wrong, they go badly wrong. It's an intensely political institution too - the idea that the Tories are being monstrous in 'turning it into a political football' is ridiculous. That's the whole point of the NHS - that a dropped bedpan should echo in the corridors of Whitehall.

The NHS is a branch of Government that works about as well as you'd expect a vast state monolith to work. Ultimately, given the changing demographics in the UK and the pressure in public finances, it will need to reform the way it does things. Reacting to this reality by lighting candles and chanting about your love for a branch of the state is, frankly, weird and creepy. Nigel Lawson famously described the NHS as the nearest thing the British have to a state religion, but on current evidence, it's less like a religion and more like a cult.


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