According to Telegraph columnist Sherelle Jacobs, the exhortation to “protect the NHS” during the Covid emergency was not a one-off. The inversion of reality – whereby we must serve the NHS, instead of the NHS serving us – is a feature of the system, not a bug. Here’s how her piece begins.
It’s not even winter and already health chiefs are planning to beg the public to stay away from A&Es to relieve pressure on hospitals. Patients’ lives are being put at risk as they are urged to call NHS 111 instead – and kept on hold for 20 times longer than is standard.
This is all ominously reminiscent of lockdown. As it turns out, even back then the NHS never came close to being overwhelmed. Yet people dutifully stayed at home to save it from collapse – with many not seeking medical attention for non-Covid illnesses like cancer. The public is still paying the price, some with their lives, due to the resulting backlog.
One might have hoped that this would be a tragic one-off. After all, the NHS took the extreme measures that it did in the face of a mysterious new virus. But the way things are going, seasonal shut-downs of varying degrees could become the new normal – with public campaigns that urge people to stay away from hospitals, patients permanently unable to see GPs in person, and cancelled operations stretching endlessly into the future.
Even though the Government has committed billions of pounds in extra funding, the health service remains barely able to function. It is stuck in a vicious cycle, whereby it must routinely insure itself against a worst-case-scenario collapse by driving patients away. This, of course, only leads to more late-diagnosed cancer patients and more delays in routine treatments and operations, making the backlog even worse. Although the chances of an NHS “Black Wednesday” remain remote, in this era of close managerial surveillance and media scrutiny, such a prospect haunts its senior ranks.