NHS: A response to Hannan’s polemicism

I have a suspicion that Mr. Cameron will be having to backpedal so quickly, he may crash into the Lexus carrying his briefcase!

In case anyone has been under a rather large rock, a brief bit of background. For a good while now, Dan Hannan MEP has been making highly critical remarks about the NHS – labelling it a “sixty year mistake” back in April. This was enough to anger many Labour supporters – whom he had also criticised for focusing on the NHS as Britain’s greatest invention. But as the debate over Obama’s healthcare reforms intensifies in the US, Daniel Hannan has become a spokesman for the UK libertarian right. I say spokesman – I see him more as a ranting neo-libertarian lunatic. He branded the NHS a “Marxist mistake” and warned Americans that “You see a grizzly picture of your own country’s possible future” and added: “I see this massive encroachment of the state… this huge power grab by the state machine… squeezing the private sector, to engorge the state”. In addition to branding the NHS as some sort of communist-state-machine, Hannan went on to complain about the “electoral bloc” of NHS staff who are “impossible to get rid of”.

But Hannan’s remarks were only really part of the picture. The Republican Party has been vehement in it’s opposition to reform (as have it’s supporters, often getting quite heated in public debates), branding the NHS “evil” and “Orwellian”. They quoted months of waiting for operations and labelled the National Institute for Clinical Excellence as a “death panel”.

The response to this criticism was a mass Twitter campaign, tagged as “welovetheNHS”. For three days, people were logging on to Twitter and posting their own stories of messages of support. Twitter had it’s servers overwhelmed by the sheer volume of messages coming through. However, it wasn’t just lefties who’d taken offense to Hannan’s remarks – Andrew Lansley rebuked Hannan’s remarks, and the Tory Reform Group stated via Twitter the Hannan’s non-involvement in Conservative health policy (apart from deranged ranting, it seems) was “a very good thing”. In response to the Republican’s remarks, many on Twitter users have pointed to the problems of the supposedly free and libertarian system of the US (doctor behind the till anyone?)

So, according to Hannan’s analysis, America is headed for disaster if it adopts the NHS. Patients are doomed to rationed healthcare, rather than having flexible freedom to choose. Excuse me, Mr. Hannan – I may only be a humble blogger, but I’d like to give my two-penneth on this issue. I am fresh off an NHS operating table (it’s been four months) after having a cholesystectomy to prevent acute pancreatitis, which I suffered with back in February. And I’m not going to say it was wonderful, there were times when my care was hell. I made the mistake during my first attack of going to a London hospital that currently has a bed shortage. I had to sleep in a ward on a chair, with no pain relief and no available doctor to see me. I was in agony. This was coupled with the fact that I have Asperger Syndrome and thus problems with some aspects of NHS treatment (namely blood tests), and there was no-one in that particular hospital to support me. I was lucky that the consultant I had was understanding. He realised that I wouldn’t get effective treatment in that hospital, so gave me a high dosage of morphine to make the 100-mile journey home to my Mum’s, where I’d get better treatment. Would I get that under a private system? Absolutely not.

Later, I was admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, which was built on PFI. Prior to Labour taking government, I would have had no choice as to where to go. Now I do. And I knew that I could get the best care at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, both because it has a strong gastroenterology department. Additionally, most of my family has been treated at Norfolk and Norwich – including my grandfather for his sight and prostate cancer and my mother for a near-fatal asthma attack. My experience was faultless from beginning to end – I was put straight into the Emergancy Admissions Ward (my condition was too critical to wait in A&E), had my X Rays done the same night, and my pancreatitis was diagnosed in two hours, after several blood tests. The nurses provided my Mum with several cups of tea to calm her nerves. I was put into a observation ward overnight, then moved to a same sex ward (again, another NHS reform from Labour) for a week until I was well enough to be discharged. It was miserable, I was kept nil by mouth (trust me, you’ll never know how much of a fantastic experience eating a digestive biscuit after not eating for a week is until you are in that situation), couldn’t sleep properly because of the pain – but the nursing staff were fantastic. I had daily blood tests (as I mentioned before, I have Aspergers, thus I get panic attacks at the thought of blood tests) – which were performed with a minor anaesthetic by extremely sympathetic nurses. When I came to have my operation, I had a social worker with me before I went in. If anyone can tell me if there’s an insurer that will cover all that, plus support, then I will eat my words. And it has to be one I can afford. With an income of £11, 000 a year, I doubt it will exist.

I always was immensely proud of the NHS, I have been ever since I became a lefty. Even when I was a liberal (yes, you can boo and hiss, but I was 15 and misguided), I defended the NHS at every possible oppertunity. After I had the illness this year, I’ve grown to become more vehement in my defence. Hannan’s comments couldn’t have come at a worse time.

I’m not saying the NHS is perfect. Of course it isn’t, I’ve experienced some truely awful standard in care. In fact, I heard from a former employee of that very hospital – and according to her, the hospital in question should have been demolished years ago. It’s known for it’s very poor standards. But unlike Hannan and his ilk, I’m not going to let that unfortunate experience cloud my judgement of the overall picture. Yes, I have heard horror stories, but I look at it in this way: the NHS was set up to provide a basic human right, that being healthcare. I feel secure in the knowledge that if I happen to fall ill, I will have accsess to treatment – and the only thing that I’m prioritised on is not my insurance, my class, my income or social standing – but what I need and when. Yes, it might take longer, but queue-jumping healthcare is wholly immoral. It’s wrong to get priority over somebody just because you have the income to do so. Debate about the NHS’s direction is fine, I accept that. There are departments crying out for help, and ideas need to be discussed.

But what I will not ever, ever accept is a man going to the US and trash-talking the NHS. Naturally, I have no issue with free speech, but Daniel Hannan has no balance to his arguement – he’s being deliberately polemical to further his anti-NHS agenda. I don’t care if he doesn’t want to dismantle the NHS, I am angry that he is adding fuel to the American right’s fire, and further delaying America’s much needed health reforms by playing into the Republican’s fears. At any rate, Hannan has missed something important about our healthcare system – choice. If you don’t want to take what’s on offer, fine, go private. I think you’re fools for doing so and being conned, but I’m not going to stop anyone from taking a plan with BUPA, or whoever else.

I don’t doubt for a moment that Cameron himself is entirely supportive and devoted to the NHS. I don’t doubt that many in the Conservative Party won’t dismantle the NHS, but I don’t agree with their ideas for reform or running it. But Hannan isn’t a maverick, there are many in the party who share his view. I can think of Peter Bone in particular – but his track record of compassion or social commitment isn’t exactly glittering – from paying a trainee in his travel agency 87p per hour to acting as one of the beneficiarys of the recent Private Member’s Bill to abolish the minimum wage. These are the kind of views that exist in the Conservative Party, and I don’t feel comfortable with that. As someone who is passionately devoted to the service, I couldn’t sit happily with people who wish to see it abolished! You will never see any Labour activist (in my experience) that will call for the dismantling of the NHS, we have a huge sense of pride in it. Granted, there are disagreements amoungst the left and right, but the NHS is the jewel in the crown to us, and a thorn in the side to the Tories neo-libertarian grouping.

It made me so proud to see so many people coming out in support of the NHS. Even my liberal grandfather, who is currently too frail to walk to the shop to buy a newspaper, was livid about Hannan’s remarks. He was asking me if there was a march planned. “I can’t march very fast, but I’ll go!” were his words. Sadly, I don’t know of one yet.

After this debacle, the Tories will have some serious convincing to do when it comes to the electorate that they lead the way on health policy – perhaps muzzling Hannan would be a start.
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The latest in a series of Tory oxymorons.

“The torch of progressive politics has been passed to a new generation of politicians – and those politicians are Conservatives.”, he told Demos earlier today. Do excuse me while I chortle a little. I’m actually not sure whether he’s just being opportunist by taking a “nice” word from the lefties and using it as sugar coating for the Tories, or just being plain deluded. If it was the latter, then he’d be going down a treat at the Comedy Store.

And so we have a new entry into the Tory Oxymoron Collections: progressive conservatism – filed with “compassionate conservatism” and “moral capitalism”.

But wait. The Boy Gideon does have some explanation for this sweeping statement – “There is nothing progressive about out-of-control spending that the poorest end up having to pay for, and nothing fair about huge national debts that future generations are left having to pay for. And it is that fiscal responsibility allied to a passionate belief in public service reform – particularly in education – which is the only progressive route out of this debt crisis.” He also accuses the Labour Party of persuing a “course of illiberalism, centralisation, fiscal incontinence and opposition to meaningful public service reform”.

This isn’t the first time the Tories have tried to cherry-pick elements of lefty politics that they like the look of – Cameron did famously try to advocate “Conservative Co-operatives” for education – met by a rather stern response from the Co-operative Party.

But Osbourne should re-evaluate his understanding of progressivism. If the Tories really are the “new progressives”, where is the support for progressive taxation? Ya know Osbourne, that policy that involves higher taxation for the rich – judging by the Tory response to the 50% tax on the highest earners, I don’t sense any progressivism there. So where are the examples of the Tories progressivism? Osbourne elaborates:

“Whether it is pioneering open primaries to select our parliamentary candidates, or using new technology to give the public power through access to government information, or our commitment to a radical localisation of power, we are the ones setting the progressive pace in politics.”

I don’t agree. Progressivism, as I see it, is often a mix of government economic control (regulation rather than ownership) and liberal social policy. So the Tories have open primaries. It’s radical and dynamic yes, but it’s no proof of Tory progressivism. Still, I suppose George had to come up with something that sounded vaguely liberal, dynamic and fresh (or in other words, hits all the buzzwords).

“If we don’t reform public services like health and education, and make the money that is available go further, the alternative is deep cuts to the front line services that we need to compete and deliver the dream of a fairer society.”

No doubt Osbourne. I want a fair society too. I do not see anything from the Tories that convinces me that they will deliver the reform that we so desperately to stop history repeating. A commitment to fiscal progressivism (which, to be honest, is probably what Osbourne means) will probably balance the books, in theory. But it’s not radical reform.

Progressive Toryism – the latest in a series of oxymorons.

Remembering Hiroshima.

Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No to nuclear – no human life should ever face the suffering that the victims of this did.

A public transport headache for Mayor Johnson.

During the London Mayoral election, Boris seemed to have a little trouble with the figures for the “replacement Routemaster”. First it was £6m. Then £25m. It seemed a figure was finally settled on at £100m. His indecision and lack of knowledge on his own policy sent even Jeremy Paxman to despair:

Now it’s been reported by the Guardian that the public subsidy for the TFL bus network, including costs for the design and implementation of the Routemaster successor will be in the region of £653m to £766m, according to accounting firm KPMG. Further more, analysts at Deutsche Bank have predicted the fares could rise by 11% to finance the policy. Val Shawcross, the Labour AM and deputy chair of the Assembly’s transport committee has openly criticised the policy in light of the cost revealations: “We all understand that the TfL budget is tight and it is a silly vanity project to be pursuing an open-backed bus.”

Meanwhile, The London Paper reports that passengers are unhappy with the single deck buses recently used as temporary replacement for the supposedly despised bendy bus. Complaints range from lack of seating, which in the rush hour is proving unbearable for many. Coupled with the news that the permanent replacement will cost at least £250,000 (considerably more than the bendy bus), it is hardly surprising that passengers are likely to be grumbling.

An ever-diminshing budget and upset passengers? I don’t recall seeing this in Mayor Johnson’s manifesto – mind you, neither did he. But a little foresight would have certainly helped!