If you knew nothing about the NHS and someone handed you this book to read you would believe that the NHS was some vast psychopathic entity designed t...moreIf you knew nothing about the NHS and someone handed you this book to read you would believe that the NHS was some vast psychopathic entity designed to kill and maim people at vast public expense from which the people live in fear. Indeed, this book could have been written by any one of a number of people who have a vested interest in seeing the NHS cut up and hived off to the highest bidder and it reads like a Layman’s terms version of the government’s Health and Social Care Bill. The vested interest in actual question is Roger Taylor who happens to be one of the founding members of Doctor Foster, a privately run, for profit company which makes money from measuring performances of various aspects of the NHS – monitoring the competitive nature our health service in essence, for a lot of money. Needless to say, in the advent of full privatisation and full competition in health provision Doctor Foster’s profits would soar through the roof as not only health professionals and policy makers would be in need of their data but so would every one of us. Roger Taylor stands to make an absolute fortune from NHS privatisation so it should come as no surprise that his book is heavily skewed towards this narrative; don’t be misled by the title, the title is a satire on how the public foolishly view the NHS. His argument it that we’re more satisfied with it than ever, but shouldn’t be and his only solution is continued increasing involvement of the private sector which he refers to as the “independent sector” throughout. Always beware of people using this term, it shows they are intelligent enough to know privatisation is bad so they alter the semantics of the debate rather than the debate itself.
Roger Taylor is also a journalist, for the Guardian no less who are also the publisher of this volume which goes to show how wide-spread the pernicious interest in NHS privatisation has spread. As a journalist his chapters follow a thematic and well-trod road of human interest / human tragedy / blame / repercussion / solution and remarkably his solution is always that same one. As though private health care is some kind of panacea for institutional failings. I don’t think anyone who disagrees with the premise of this book would argue that the NHS was perfect. Privateers often cite data, probably from Doctor Foster, that shows we lag behind other nations in Europe who have an insurance based system – Taylor does it throughout the book. What he, and other critics fail to mention, is that the gap is closing after the huge investment of the 1997-2010 Labour years, and with continued investment it would continue to close. The base level for these statistics of so called failings is only a few years previous, but if you take the chronic under-investment of the Tory governments of Thatcher and Major you see why we have traditionally done worse than our European partners, but it must be said significantly better than our American peers. Let it not be forgotten that infant mortality chronic disease care etc is much better also in Cuba than the UK where there is no private involvement whatsoever but privateers simply never point to the Cuban model of healthcare as an example to take ideas from. The reason for this is that the privateers aren’t involved in the debate for the good of the population but to line their own pockets. Selling out to the energy companies, the rail companies, the water companies etc etc was all supposed to be good for the “consumer” but we know better now, and beware anyone referring to patients as consumers.
As with all NHS critics the Mid-Staffs scandal features prominently in this book and is used as a stick with which to beat whole swathes of the service and even hypothesises that Mid-Staffs is the first of many scandals waiting to come out. If Roger Taylor has evidence to suggest this then he should bring it to light to the authorities instead of throwing speculation about. One area where criticism is justified of the NHS is its whistleblowing procedure, or rather the following of the whistleblowing procedure. In some hospitals the service is difficult to critique and doctors / managers see such things as personal attacks so hush things up rather than doing something about them at the earliest opportunity. Private Eye have covered this extensively and uncovered some truly worrying evidence of cover ups and court silencing behaviours across the NHS. Two things are needed to address this – an altering of the culture of secrecy in all public services, not just the NHS, but specifically for the NHS to be taken out of government control and handed to an independent, public sector body free of government interference with all the relevant powers of oversight and decision making capability. The government sets the budget but this commission, perhaps, makes the decisions. This will end the political blame culture that pervades every area of the public sector. We never look for ways to stop things happening, we look for people to sack when they finally go wrong. This is entirely reactive and unhelpful. On a similar line because so much money is spent on healthcare each new government wants to put its own stamp on the health service so you get change after change after change – no actual change is given chance to bed down to see if it works. The politics of the NHS is one of the things that may just kill the NHS – every government of the day wants to give it another heart transplant when the one it had might have been working fine, or at least getting better as time wore on. Roger Taylor’s solution to this genuine concern is, yes you guessed it, more private involvement.
At no stage does Taylor provide a coherent analysis of why bringing in a layer of shareholding profit makers would improve the health service. There are some interesting ideas of patient involvement in care, though the extent of this is somewhat worrying and seems to be just a way of removing liability for care, good or bad, from the would-be private institutions and onto the individual which strikes me as libertarianism gone mad. The NHS is not failing, it is improving. Some things need to improve quicker than they are doing but cutting funding in real terms and involving Richard Branson isn’t going to make anything better, it will make them worse. I accuse the author of writing a book purely to further his own private interests in making money out of the NHS and shamefully couching his argument in terms of patient care. I accuse the Guardian of aiding and abetting this miserable little tome for similar reasons – the Guardian Trust is no stranger to investing in odd ventures against the interests of the type of people who read their paper. God Bless the NHS is essentially literary cheerleading for the likes of Jeremy Hunt and Andrew Lansley before him, two men with whom the NHS should never have been trusted. (less)
Robert Fisk has been a reported from the Middle East for several decades now, first with the Times and then the Independent once Rupert Murdoch had sh...moreRobert Fisk has been a reported from the Middle East for several decades now, first with the Times and then the Independent once Rupert Murdoch had shown too much interest in editing his pieces for the former newspaper. The majority of the writing in this collection of his articles for the Independent come from the Iraq invasion onwards to the book’s publication in 2010. Because Fisk has been a correspondent in the Arab world for so long there is a weariness in some of the reports, you get the sense that the author just wants to grab the leaders of America, the UK, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria etc etc and bang their heads together and tell them to stop bombing, killing, maiming, invading, occupying and destroying.
Robert Fisk is a go-to man for facts on the Middle East, not only his own time but the history of the area from cultural influences through the Crusades and early modern history up to the 20th Century and the Turkish genocide of the Armenian people, still unacknowledged by Turkey’s political elite. His knowledge of Arab involvement in the World Wars is comprehensive and is a renowned authority on the years following the creation of the Israeli state and the Palestinian Nakba. He writes pointedly, almost brusquely at times with his dispatches containing the horrific details of the aftermath of attacks, usually by western or western backed powers. We hear of the duplicity of the leaders of the free world, the complicity of leaders of the Arab world and the truculence of Israel’s politicians in the face of huge levels of human suffering. It is written with an even hand, and no one gets off lightly. As with all collections of journalism some of the dispatches have a dated feel and should be read in the context of the events they describe. Many of the articles have a solid prescience to them that can only come from the author’s knowledge that “we’ve been here before, and history repeats itself” as Israel tragically proves on a regular basis. This is a useful book for anyone wishing to recall the mendacity with which we were taken to war, the results of that invasion and its impact on the surrounding countries in the area and anyone who wants to know more about the historical precedents that lead our politicians to believe they have a right to interfere in other nations present and future as well as their torn pasts.
Robert Fisk is a hero of journalism and free speech, his masterwork is The Great war for Civilisation and this volume is a decent companion for that exalted tome. (less)