While I suspect that optimal solution is rooted primarily in private delivery (with government subsidized or provided insurance in some cases), what's clear is that many public financed healthcare systems are faltering.


The most striking thing about the “Save our NHS” protests is how small they are. From the handful of professional activists who stormed a branch of NatWest at the weekend, symbolically draped in bloodied bandages, to the various “die-ins” staged by anti-cuts protesters who claim that “the poor” (a horrible Dickensian phrase) will kick the bucket if the Lib-Cons trim anything related to health, the protests have been noisy and headline-grabbing, yes, but tiny in terms of turnout. It isn’t hard to see why. The NHS might be of profound symbolic importance to left-wing activists, but to the general public, to the masses who make up its clientele, it is a patronising, snooping and increasingly politically motivated institution. Save it? Why, exactly?

The middle classes, who tend to live in parts of Britain where public services in general are in quite good nick, have done pretty well from the NHS. The rest of Britain, those who have been notable by their absence on “Save our NHS” protests, has not. For them, the NHS is no longer a glorious postwar invention – it is the institution which lectures them endlessly about their eating, drinking and smoking habits. It’s an institution whose staff are now openly described by government officials as “agents of persuasion” (formerly known as “agents of the state”) who should seek to “reshape” people’s lifestyles. It’s an institution whose contempt for Joe Public is perfectly demonstrated in those ubiquitous posters in hospital waiting rooms warning us not to beat up nurses or doctors. It’s an institution that feverishly looks upon everyday human relationships as dirty and degraded, where midwives are encouraged to interrogate pregnant women over whether they are being domestically abused, and where phrases such as “puppy fat” are frowned upon, and sometimes even banned, lest they give dumb parents the idea that it’s okay for their kids to be chubby.

It’s an institution which no longer treats the patient as an individual with specific problems, but rather as a unit of the population who must be made to stop smoking or drinking more than four units of alcohol per week in order to achieve certain government targets. It’s an institution which sometimes refuses to tell pregnant women the sex of their babies in case the Asian ones find out they’re expecting a girl and abort it pronto. It’s an institution which, at a time when the powers-that-be feel incapable of making a connection with the public, is thrust forward to police us and transform us according to government diktat. And it’s an institution that blows so much money on new managerial techniques and health-propaganda campaigns that it doesn’t have enough left to provide decent medical services to those who actually need them.