Why rip up the best healthcare in the world?

Written by angusduncan

Britain’s National Health Service is the best on earth.

Britain’s National Health Service is the best on earth. It’s official. The survey by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund ranked Britain as the best in the world in eight of eleven key areas, and second or third best in a further two.

This report comes a little over two weeks after a piece in the Guardian stated that former NHS staff whose jobs had been outsourced were struggling to fit in with their new employers. It noted that one healthcare assistant had gone as far to say that the private business now operating a former part of the NHS made them feel ‘like a second class citizen.’

That is shocking. But not quite as shocking as the fact that the world’s best healthcare provider is being broken up. More than slightly concerning for myself, as I’m currently on the waiting list for surgery.

NHS, commonwealth fund, kettle mah, angus duncan

What is ‘efficiency’?

You can say that competition merely encourages efficiency. You can say that private providers save the taxpayer money, indeed they can, but how? ‘Efficiency’ to most outside of the NHS means ‘red tape’. An unhelpful barrier that stifles productivity and delays treatments. Most people say we need to get rid of this tape, even though the Commonwealth Fund said we were the most efficient health service on the planet.

Red tape isn’t a bad thing, either. Back in the days when the tape was black and white, nobody did an identity check on my gran before she went for surgery. It was only her response to the surgeon addressing her by the wrong name that made him realise that the patient requiring the amputation was not in the bed before him.

Private companies don’t buy into the NHS as a form of corporate social responsibility. No, they do it because they see the opportunity to make some cash. They tell the government that they can run the ‘business’ for less than they can – and still make a profit.

Squeezing the system

How do they do this? For a start, they squeeze more from the assets. That usually means staff in the NHS. Do you want a consultation with someone who feels they have the time to fully understand your problem, or one with someone who is under pressure from managers to spend less time with you. Or they might just sack some staff.

This isn’t just me speculating, all this actually happened happened. Protest site has a fairly comprehensive file on the cock-ups that have ensued with the private sector getting involved in our beloved health service.

Serco – who also make it their business to empty bins – replaced skilled clinical staff with a new computer system call centre staff in a regional out-of-hours call centre. 999 calls in the area quadrupled.

The clinical lead at private contractor Harmoni, Dr Fred Kavalier, resigned from his post, saying “‘I fear it is only a matter of time before this low level of service leads to a serious clinical incident.” Reassuring stuff.

Selling out for Shareholders 

Then there’s the moral aspect of all this. Richard Branson’s Virgin Group now aims to turn a profit from cash cows such as breast screening, child and adolescent mental health services, and end of life care. This from a group whose airline’s slogan was once “More experience than the name suggests.”

All I want from my NHS is a service that’s free at the point of use and has my best interests – not their shareholders, mine – as their top priority. And when I have my operation later on this year, and they poke around me with a scalpel and a camera, I don’t expect to find the footage on pay-per-view after.