If someone were to ask you what the biggest problem with the NHS is today, what would you say? Some would argue that Tory cuts have reduced the pride of Britain to a shell of its former self. Others would argue that the system never was anything to shout about, and that long wait times and poor service embody the failure of socialised healthcare.
Perhaps both points have their merit, but neither addresses the real issue with the NHS. It has nothing to do with funding or organisation, nor does it concern anything to do with the ins and outs of the system itself. Rather, the most clear and present problem with British healthcare is simply the religious, cult-like worship it receives.
Seldom has this been more apparent than today, as the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday. The fact that we celebrate the birthday of a health system is pretty strange in itself, but that’s nothing compared to the festivities themselves.
I couldn’t quite believe it when I heard that ‘The Big NHS Singalong’ would be broadcast across the country. A first-world, democratic nation singing, in unison, the praises of a government institution? That just isn’t right. It’s also rather unsettling that parties will be held across the country in further celebration of the event.
Before people start furiously atting me on Twitter (at least, more than usual), I should probably make a quick disclaimer here: I’m not saying that the NHS is not worthy of praise. It’s served a good purpose, and historically has been a significant step towards available healthcare.
But like all things, it is fallible. The NHS is very, very far from perfect, and the beatific celebration it receives today serves only to gloss over the many faults in the system. Suggestions at reform are often met with fierce opposition, much of which revolves around the failings of the American system.
Herein lies the issue: any suggested reforms are all too often shot down as calls for total privatisation. This, of course, would be unthinkable blasphemy against the holy NHS. Who dares to suggest that the broken system of our transatlantic cousins could even hold a finger to our national treasure?
Well, not many people. Calls for reform seem to hold the social insurance systems common in European countries as viable alternatives, rather than suggesting we shift to a totally private system. These systems are still socially funded and widely available, but fund hospitals through reimbursement and public insurance, rather than single-payer funding.
Whether or not these European systems are truly superior, however, is irrelevant. Not only would suggesting this fall upon deaf, patriotic ears, but and politician would be committing career suicide to try and push this.
Any problems the NHS faces stand no chance of being remedied so long as this approach continues. The NHS has achieved some great things, but like any government body it must be subject to scrutiny, and we must be open to criticisms. Otherwise, we are condemning ourselves to live with never-changing, 70-year-old healthcare.