Tuesday, 7 July 2020

The NHS is not the envy of the world

Brits were encouraged to clap for the NHS on Sunday in what the government hopes will become an annual show of devotion to a below-par health system. I hope it doesn't become a Thing. It would be embarrassing if foreigners found out about it, as I explain in The Critic today...

As the years roll on, it is possible that somebody might notice that the British are paying more than average for a below-average health service, but it is more likely that new excuses and scapegoats will be found. The public are already being primed to blame themselves for the NHS’s failings. If only we weren’t so fat and lazy, goes the message, the system would work. This is the logical conclusion to the thinking – made explicit during lockdown – that it is the public’s duty to protect the NHS rather than the other way round.

In the meantime, we will continue to applaud the idea of the NHS, worshipping a caterpillar that, for some reason, never quite became a butterfly. We will continue to view basic healthcare as a miracle of this island race, as if being born in a hospital or having one’s life saved by medicine could only happen when the state owns the infrastructure. We will continue to accept waiting four hours for emergency treatment and six months for an operation as if it would be unreasonable to expect anything better. After all, it’s free!

To the rest of the world, Britain’s infatuation with its own healthcare system is a baffling eccentricity, like those Pacific Islanders who worship the Duke of Edinburgh. But we don’t care. When it comes to healthcare, we are used to ignoring the rest of the world (except the USA). The NHS makes self-described internationalists become peculiarly parochial and narrow-minded, almost jingoistic. Insofar as we give other countries’ health systems a thought, we assume that they have either copied the NHS (may peace be upon It) or have no healthcare at all.

Do read it all. No paywall.

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