The NHS is said to be in crisis. For the whole of this week the BBC has led its news broadcasts with stories about that crisis.
No one can get a GP’s appointment. A & E departments take well over four hours to see patients. Beds in hospitals are being blocked by old people who don’t need to be in hospital. Hospitals are having to make disagreeable value judgments, based on things like “life style” rather than clinical need, when deciding whom they are prepared to treat.
The reason for this crisis, the BBC tells us, is that not enough taxpayers’ money is being ploughed into the NHS. Nothing else is wrong with the service: all comes down to money.
The BBC is then accused of bias: it is attacking a Tory government for being too mean (even though all Tory governments tend to spend more on the NHS than do Labour governments).
But what else are the BBC journalists meant to think? How many serious politicians can you name who would dare to suggest that the model created in 1948 (free at the point of use, all funding to be provided by taxpayers, no element of insurance funding, everyone to be employed by the state) is not perfect?
The Labour Party is wedded to the 1948 model. Any Labour member who ventured to suggest that we might learn from other countries, countries with much better health provision, would probably be expelled from the party.
But the Conservative Party is no better. Tories are petrified of being accused of trying to destroy the “envy of the world” (what nonsense that expression is). So they all subscribe to the Labour view that the NHS is perfect and that all it needs is more taxpayers’ money.
I haven’t, I confess, studied the Lib Dems’ or Ukip’s policies on the NHS, but I would be prepared to bet that they go along with Labour and the Tories.
In those circumstances it strikes me as being grossly unjust to say that the BBC is biased when it tells us, night after night, that all the NHS needs in order to overcome its crisis is lots more taxpayers’ money. It is just saying what all the main political parties are saying. Why should it go out on a limb and suggest there might be solutions which Mrs May, Mr Corbyn and Mr Farron would all denounce as being evil?
Last night the BBC told us how wonderful the German health service was compared to ours. Per capita spending on health was a lot higher. Waiting lists were almost unheard of. There were masses of empty beds in hospitals. What it did not say was that Germany has a large element of insurance funding and that it does not insist that the state should run every hospital (we may be a bit mean on budgets but we can at least claim that the NHS is the largest employer in Europe). But why should the BBC point out those facts? No British politician thinks them to be of any importance at all. The BBC is there to report, not to be a think tank proposing radical solutions.
Some of the reporting has, it must be admitted, been a little misleading. All nurses are said to be angels (they don’t hang around at their “station” gossiping and drinking tea while patients are desperately trying to get their attention). A & E doctors and nurses, of course, rush from new patient to new patient without ever taking half an hour to have a chat and a giggle with colleagues. Administration is faultless (who could ever claim, other than me, to have received letters advising of appointments with consultants several days after the dates of the appointments?). But that is inevitable. As soon as the cameras appear the staff are bound to be on their best behaviour. Why should the BBC know it is just a show?
And, anyway, most doctors and nurses in the NHS are excellent. My own, regrettably rather extensive, experience is that medical and nursing (during the day) staff are brilliant. The nurses on night shifts tend not to be very committed, but that is probably because many of them are provided by agencies. Administration (despite – or perhaps because of – the fact we have more administrators than do any comparable countries) is deplorable.
The BBC should probably have pointed out some of the failings. But, as I say, those may not have been apparent once the cameras appeared. And I am sure the omission was not brought about by political bias.
Any sane and disinterested observer would be bound to conclude that the 1948 NHS model is far from being perfect. I don’t think there is any other developed country of any size which has a monolithic state employed health service. Most civilised countries accept that the providers should not be arms of the state, though they may be funded by the state. Pretty well all other countries use private as well as public money to fund health services. Yes, it would have been amusing to see the BBC pointing out these things. But how can it be said to be bias on the part of the BBC that it has gone along with the view of all the politicians that the only problem with the NHS is that it doesn’t get enough money from the taxpayers?
The real problem is that no political party is prepared to allow its members to indulge in what I gather is known as “blue-sky thinking” about the NHS. Labour, because it can claim to have founded the NHS, can, perhaps, be excused. It is a conservative (note the small c) party. For nearly seventy years it has proudly boasted that it created the “envy of the world”. It would be asking rather too much of Labour to expect it to see any fault in its creation. But there really is no reason why the Tories should not consider radical reform, other than their terror of being accused of seeking to destroy a national treasure.
In the meantime, we must put up with a failing health service. But we would be wrong to blame the BBC.