Samir Dawlatly: Can we have our (political) football back please?

With the budget of the NHS being over £100 billion, coming from taxpayers’ money, it is inevitable that health is overtly political. How such a large chunk of the nation’s budget is spent is the interest of those in government, as well as those who are governed. One of the consequences of this is that health becomes a political football for politicians to kick, discuss, debate, and accuse each other over.

It is as if the two main political parties are playing a match of football, in front of a stadium of would be voters. When they are not busy hacking chunks out of each other, they boot a ball that is emblazoned with the logo “NHS.” When they miskick, or score an own goal, they can be seen to blame the ball—it’s inflated too high, too tatty, the wrong shape, not big enough, too big, too slippery. To the observer, it would seem that most of them don’t even seem to know which way they are meant to be shooting.

The fact is that most of the players don’t seem to have realised that both teams are actually aiming, schoolboy style, into the same goal marked: “Privatisation.” Defending that goal are a few renegade players and pitch invaders from the BMA, social media, and the Royal Colleges. There is no referee, so the commentators from the mass media simply scream abuse from the stands at both the players and the ball.

What if we could suspend disbelief and our normal paradigm of thinking? What if the ball grew legs and arms and developed its own voice? Things could be markedly different if it stood up and shouted, “Enough! Stop kicking me about to make yourselves look good to your voters! ENOUGH!!”

If the government can be convinced that, like the Bank of England, the NHS and the health of the nation is so important that it can’t be kicked around for political gain, then perhaps the NHS can be made independent of politics. That way health policies could be designed for longer time periods than just the next election. Policies would not be designed by focus groups and civil servants, but tough decisions could be made by an independent board that would not jeopardise the ability of a political party to be voted in.

Currently, making the necessary changes to the NHS to ensure that it survives is likely to make the political party in power deeply unpopular and, perhaps, unelectable. It is in their interest, as well as that of health professionals and our patients, to hand the NHS to those who are simply asking, “Can we have our ball back please?”

Samir Dawlatly is a GP partner at Jiggins Lane Surgery in Birmingham. He combines clinical practice with being a part time house husband and an interest in social media, as well as publishing poems, essays, and blogs. He can be found on Twitter as @sdawlatly.

I have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: I am a member of the RCGP online working group on overdiagnosis.