This week marked the 75th ‘birthday’ of our sainted anthropomorphised NHS. Observing the relentless barrage of propaganda from the BBC and associated media outlets I have been thinking about the nature of belief systems – how they are formed, sustained and manipulated.
Official lines loop endlessly on the public broadcaster – similar to leitmotifs in an opera or the chanting of a Greek chorus. Endless repetition of the foundational myth: universal healthcare, free at the point of use from cradle to grave, paid for by general taxation. Dire warnings of the threat of American style healthcare bankrupting patients with medical bills. And the excuses – always the excuses: ‘ageing population’, ‘rising demand’, ‘chronic underfunding’ and the rest. There is, as yet no evidence of intention or appetite for a significant change to the model of monolithic socialised healthcare in the U.K.
The pinnacle of absurdity must surely be the bizarre pantomime at Westminster Abbey on Wednesday. Royalty and the bien pensant beau monde gathered with 1,500 ‘NHS heroes’ to thank a presumed deity for bestowing chronically underperforming state-run healthcare on the nation. The Dean of Westminster went so far as to say that “the NHS was, and still is, a glimpse of the new heaven and new earth that is promised”. The poor chap may need to see a doctor – if he can find one. Irony is usually wasted on politicians, but I thought it telling that in the week Wes Streeting suggested we need to stop treating the NHS as a national religion, the leader of his party stood in a pulpit in Westminster Abbey performing a reading from the Bible in homage to the sacred institution. I’ve seen some nonsense in my time, but this was really through the looking glass.
The ‘birthday’ has seen the release of multiple reports, purporting to assess the state of the NHS and provide expert advice on how to repair it. Such reports are usually written with a prior agenda in mind – often with the intention of manufacturing ‘opinion-based evidence’ or to promote vested interests. Sometimes they are written to give the impression that a public body is ‘listening’ or has a plan. Occasionally the purpose is to deflect attention from embarrassing issues or to conceal prior policy mistakes. I find it noteworthy that reports published this week from different sources contain very similar substance. Surely coincidental.