Further to David’s post about the absurd claims spouted about Stephen Hawking and the NHS by some opponents of healthcare reform in the US, it would appear that the man himself has decided to put his side of things. “I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS,” he told The Guardian. “I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.”
I’m going to put my cards on the table here. The NHS is f’king great. It’s not often that that’s said, but its no less true for that. It’s occasionally messy, and it probably needs radical reform – but it’s still great. It means that Stephen Hawking – and anyone else – can have life-saving treatment for FREE when it’s needed, and non-life-saving treatment mostly for free as well. If medical treatment is in order, one way or another, you’ll get it. You don’t need to buy insurance, because you’ve already got it. Really. It’s that simple. Moreover, the vast majority in the UK agrees that, for all its faults, something like the NHS is a good idea in prinicple at least. We can say that beccause YouGov and the Fabian Society asked 3000 people about their attitudes to the NHS:
The NHS is sixty years old this year. Which of the following best describes your attitude to it?
(a) Whatever problems the NHS may have, its commitment to free treatment for everyone means it is still one of our great national symbols: 70%
(b) The NHS was a good idea for its time but we now need a different way of running modern healthcare provision: 25%
(c) The NHS was a bad idea from the start and it should be abolished and replaced with something different: 1%
(d) Don’t know: 3%
Labour voters were 80-15-1-4.
Conservative voters were 56-39-3-2.
LibDems were 79-13-3-5.
Note that option (b) doesn’t amount to scrapping socialised medicine: it can also accommodate coming up with another way to provide it. Even Melanie Phillips hasn’t suggested that the NHS is a bad thing. Yet. The reason why we don’t often make a point of saying that something like the NHS is such a good idea is that it’s blindingly obvious. We might just as well construct arguments about the cuteness of kittens.
Yes, there’s rationing. Rationing’s good: the link between “ration” and “reason” is more than etymological. Rationing simply means that those people whom we think ought to get treated first get treated first, and that those treatments that we think don’t have the evidence don’t get used until they do have it. Simples. That’s not unjust – it’s justice in action.
But let’s be clear here. There is a handful of rightwing Tories that seems to think that the NHS should be scrapped. Prominent among them is Daniel Hannan MEP, who’s popped up on Fox “News” to tell Glen Beck just how awful things are over here. Hannan isn’t my MEP (I’m stuck with Nick Griffin, ffs), but the point is that he’s the sort of person to make Ayn Rand look like John Maynard Keynes. His best examples of the true horror of the NHS? That you might have to wait a couple of months for your free treatment of a non-life-threatening condition (gasp!). And that sometimes A&E departments are busy.
That last one is a killer. If you can bear it, scroll forward to 1:50 on the Fox vid. Essentially, the details are that a friend of his with a broken leg was told to wait his turn on a Friday night, and – ZOMG!!!1!eleventy! – was told that he couldn’t jump the queue and self-medicate in return for money.
Well, I’m staggered. Imagine having to sit in the same room as… I can hardly bear to write it… poor people (and Hannan is pretty clear that it was filthy chavs who were getting in the way). Ugh.
I should take heart. If the best the anti-NHS crowd on either side of the Atlantic can do is to wheel out cranks like Hannan, then their best isn’t very good.
UPDATE: Even the Tory front bench and Fox stablemate Sky “News” are distancing themselves from Hannan…
UPDATE 2: Oh, God. Now the health secretary’s waded in, calling attacks on the NHS unpatriotic. Patriotism has nothing to do with it, you idiot. If patriotism was the best argument in favour of the NHS, it’d be in real trouble. If the best the pro-NHS crowd is cranks like Andy Burnham, then our best isn’t very good, either.