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The toxic British worship of the NHS - by Ian Birrell for Unherd

In an excoriating article which identifies appalling misapplication of funds between the NHS and Social Care, Ian Birrell identifies a “sentimental worship of a public service that was corrosive even before the pandemic inflamed the problem.”

“Despite the intensity of Britain’s devotion to the NHS, there is nothing unique about universal healthcare in a rich European nation; every country in western Europe has it, as does almost every country in eastern Europe. And like it or not, our health service often has worse outcomes than its neighbours on key indicators such as amenable mortality (when people die from potentially preventable conditions), brain strokes, many cancers, even infant mortality. For all the impressive efficiency and improved productivity, it is naïve to think that the NHS’s problems are all down to money, whatever medical trade unions may claim.”

“This blinkered veneration ends up not just overshadowing the unloved social care sector but harming patients. It might sound sacrilegious but not every health worker is a hero, however dedicated the majority. Consecration of a public service that instills such fear of criticism in politicians impedes proper focus on profound issues of fairness, outcomes and patient safety. Yet there are systemic flaws that tend with sickening inevitability to injure — and sometimes kill — those most in need of help, such as the very old, the very young and those with disabilities.”

He identifies psychiatric treatments which belong in Bedlam, mistakes and mis-diagnoses and above all a “culture of avoidance and denial” which makes investigations into patient safety scandals so difficult to unearth.

“This is the flip side of sanctifying the NHS. We see again and again the dangers of placing this vital public service on a pedestal that calcifies its defences against accountability, criticism or dissent. Compare how a less hallowed institution like the airline industry demands a safety culture while the health service, impervious to criticism, leaves a trail of wrecked lives behind its culture of denial and cover-up. Soaring costs of compensation are a factor — but legal bills would fall sharply if medics and managers stopped seeking to silence those raising concerns and politicians ensured aggrieved parties had less need to spend years in weary battles for justice.”

The full article is enclosed below with a link back to the original.

Article for Unherd by Ian Birrell 02.12
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