If you were listening to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning you might have been forgiven for thinking – not for the first time, probably – that you’d chanced upon a party political broadcast on behalf of the Socialist Workers’ Party.
Simon Stevens, the National Health Service’s hard-headed chief executive, had come on to warn that the NHS needs radical improvements to its efficiency if it is to have a remotely viable future. But the programme, it became clear from inquisitor Sarah Montagu’s line of questioning, had other priorities.
Yes, it may be true – as we’ve been learning from a special investigation in the Mail all this week – that there are swathes of “our” NHS which are now shockingly dysfunctional, riddled with waste and politically correct bureaucracy, with patients dying needlessly while waiting for ambulances or for vital surgery or merely a hospital bed, nurses that won’t do the basic job of nursing, the elderly treated with fecklessness and casual cruelty amounting to torture, all of it making an utter mockery of the NHS’s supposed status as the “envy of the world.”
No. Not all of it. But enough of it – in Wales, in mid-Staffordshire and elsewhere – to make anyone not blinkered by the rose-tinted spectacles of quasi-religious NHS-worship that the institution is not fit for purpose and sorely needs radical surgery if we’re not all to face grisly treatment and potentially horrible deaths in our hours of urgent medical need.
So what was the BBC’s take on all this? Well, it had invited its listeners to submit questions to Stevens and most of them appeared to be variations on the same theme: is the NHS going to be privatised?
Of course, the BBC wasn’t to know that the questions would be hijacked by the left-leaning online campaign group 38 Degrees but all it would have taken was a glance at the #AskNHSEngland hashtag to realise what was going on. As it was, the Today programme gave the impression that the threat of privatisation is the only thing that really worries people about the NHS and that everything else is just fine and dandy. But I’m not so sure this is actually true.
Yes, there will indeed be one or two people out there who really would rather that a thousand NHS patients died in agony than that one private company made a profit from treating them better and more efficiently. But they are, I would suspect, vastly outnumbered by people who just want a workable, cost-effective system that they can rely on to treat them well when they are ill – and never mind the exact details of the contractual relations or otherwise the NHS may have with the private sector.
Stevens himself did his best to make some reasonable, practical points, such as that when considering the direction the NHS should take we have a duty to think both like patients and taxpayers. But because of the tenor of Sarah Montagu’s questions – kindly foisted on her by the activists of 38 Degrees – he was forced to spend most of the interview on the back foot. Worse still, he was forced to accede to the presumption – which I doubt he shares – that privatisation is more or less a dirty word.
But “privatisation” is only a dirty word because a handful of committed left-wing ideologues have been allowed to make it that way, with the indulgence of institutions like the BBC.
As most people are probably unaware the most popular NHS hospital Britain – based on twelve indicators for “outstanding performance in high quality care to patients” – is privately run. Before Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust in Cambridgeshire was taken over by the Circle Partnership – which is co-owned and run by doctors and nurses – the hospital was a shambles. Now subject to the discipline and rigour and cost savings of the private sector, it is running more efficiently AND delivering better patient care.
But as Dominic Lawson reported earlier this year, instead of shouting from the rooftops about the success of this privatised NHS model (which, by the way, was opposed all the way by the left wing unions), the Conservatives have actually been banned by their campaign adviser Lynton Crosby from even mentioning it in the run up to the General Election.
Apparently the combination of the words “NHS” and “privatisation” in the mouths of a Conservative are considered electorally toxic.
You can blame the Conservatives for cowardice on this score – and you’d be right to do so. But equally to blame, surely, is the institution which, perhaps more than any other, has helped create a climate in which telling the truth about the NHS and privatisation has become so controversial as to be impossible. Yep, that’s you, BBC. NHS-murderers!