Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.
Nervous headache? Stress-related muscle tension? Anger management issues? These are some of the symptoms many suffer when reflecting upon that drain upon the country’s well-being: the National Health Service.
Usually, we must wait until after the autumnal equinox before news reports start softening us up for that annual NHS ritual, “the winter crisis”. This year the self-styled trade union for doctors, the British Medical Association, was quicker off the mark; it warned in July that the Government must tackle continued pressure within the Service to avoid such a crisis – which anyway appears unavoidable.
This is the same BMA, some of whose members (“a workforce that continues to go above and beyond for patients”) have periodically been on strike for months, demanding a pay increase of 35 per cent. Earlier this week, the media reported that NHS staff strikes have led to the cancellation of one million appointments; waiting lists are currently at a record 7.7 million.
So much for “first do no harm”. As consultants joined junior doctors in industrial action last week, bringing down the Government seemed their primary goal. Blaming Rishi Sunak’s “ego”, these Mick Lynches of our hospital wards and operating theatres seem heedless of the General Medical Council’s first tenet of professional guidance on being a good doctor: “make the care of your patient your first concern.”
Instead, those on strike seem not to care if patients are collateral damage. Are they quite sure they are in the right job?
With the lives of vulnerable patients literally in the hands of healthcare staff, friends and family members can be reluctant to make a fuss about any sub-optimal hospital treatment.
Martha’s Rule (the right to a second medical opinion) will be named after 13-year-old Martha Mills who died from sepsis. In a harrowing account, her mother chronicles both the staff indifference to her daughter’s plight and their deference to consultants at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
According to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, there are each year some 11,000 avoidable deaths – more than 200 a week – within the NHS, with thousands more patients seriously harmed, according to; NHS Resolution reports that £2.5billion was paid in compensation claims in 2021/22, over almost 16,500 cases.
On Tuesday, news broke that 24,000 letters went missing after a failure in Newcastle Hospitals Trust’s IT system. In March, the journal Pulse reported a similar IT failure within the Mid and South Essex Foundation Trust.
If you’re thinking the NHS cannot possibly appropriate any more of the country’s time, energy, resources and money, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warns otherwise.
Examining the NHS Work Force Plan, it reports that one in 11 of all workers in England will be working for it in 2036/37 (compared with one in 17 today). It will need an extra £50billion a year, the equivalent of raising the standard rate of VAT to 26 per cent or putting 6p on the pound on income tax.
The NHS is a 75-year-old financially incontinent shambles, a relic of Second World War collectivism. Back in 1948 Aneurin Bevan, the NHS’s first minister, stated if a bedpan were dropped in Tredegar, the reverberations should echo around Whitehall.
In an era of rationing, the wireless, and a King-Emperor, Bevan lumbered every successive government with a political millstone of blame for everything which goes wrong within the NHS. It has turned into such a monster of out-of-control, unaccountable bureaucracy; it has become Healthzilla.
Blaming under-funding, healthcare managers have the perfect buck-passing excuse for their incompetence which generated a series of scandals, from Shrewsbury (which left 200 babies dead or brain-damaged) to Lucy Letby.
“Protect the NHS.” In a perceived health emergency, the decision to put the needs of a country’s health service above the needs of the population by locking down should have been a warning of skewed national priorities.
Children’s education and emotional well-being were sacrificed on the altar of the Health Service; in Orwellian shows of support for an organisation which was supposed be protecting them, Britain’s youngsters were encouraged to draw pretty rainbow pictures and bang pots and pans.
Having mistakenly generated public veneration this false idol, successive governments have not dared to attempt any serious structural reform.
Step forward Maurice Saatchi. A mastermind behind the “Labour Isn’t Working” poster back in the days of the Callaghan Government, the former advertising guru has turned his attention to the NHS.
Earlier this year Lord Saatchi renewed his call for a cross-party Royal Commission into the NHS. In two papers for the Centre for Policy Studies, published in 2017 and 2018, he argued that significant change was too politically toxic for the main parties to pursue:
“Any debate about shortcomings in the NHS always comes back to money but the problems in the system run much deeper than that. No political party can solve the problems the NHS is facing.”
The Remit (2018) pointed out the unevenness of outcomes produced by a supposedly national service. Men living in wealthy areas like Kensington can expect not only ten extra years of life, but on average 19 more years of healthy life than those from poorer neighbourhoods. A case is made for the need to prevent illness in our overweight, under-exercising society where one in five adults smoke.
In 1948, yoga would have been unknown to most people in Britain. Today, an estimated 500,000 a week practice. Yogis know about holistic healthcare, a concept which is still alien to the NHS, as anyone who has been forced to suffer hospital food can testify.
Currently, the National Health Service is failing to provide much of a service for a nation which is chronically unhealthy. We should accept that, in the twenty-first century, it is beyond the state to deliver a system of healthcare for the entire population from cradle to grave.
It is time to follow Lord Saatchi’s recommendation of a Royal Commission, with a view to radical change.