By Gerry Bates
“Psst! Can’t get a ticket, mate? I can help you out there, but it’ll cost ya!” Ticket-touts, in front of theatres, concerts, Wimbledon, football stadiums… Can’t get in via the box-office? No. But you can get in. If you can pay for it.
“Pst! Need a brain scan, Ms? After an accident you get dizzy spells? You’ve been told at the hospital office that you’ll have to wait 18 months before you’ll even get a diagnosis? You are fretful and worried? I can help you out there. Not in 78 weeks time but in two! But it’ll cost ya!”
NHS patient Rachel King, victim of an accident, suffering from dizzy spells, went to Kings College Hospital in London seeking help. In the first place she wanted to find out what was wrong with her. She needed an MRI brain scan. Yes, of course, she was told sympathetically, but she’d have to wait 18 months for it.
But, psst! Wait a minute. The letter telling her that she’d have to wait 18 months for an NHS MRI scan had a hand-written note added at the bottom: “If you want to go privately,” the helpful medico-tout told her, “you can ring this number…”
The woried and desperate woman eventually did ring the number which the hospital had so helpfully provided. She found that that too was a Kings College Hospital number. A magical number!
For her ringing that number was what going through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole was for Alice. She found herself in a different world. A place in which Kings College Hospital was altogether more serviceable.
“Psst! Yes, of course she could have an MRI brain scan! When? How would two weeks suit her? But it’ll cost ya!” £983 to be exact.
It was the same hospital that had told her she’d have to wait 18 months. The same hospital! The same MRI equipment. The same doctors. The same patient. But this patient could now have quick access to MRI equipment, doctors, a diagnosis, peace of mind — to any necessary treatment. If she would pay. If she could afford to pay. Money was the magic key to the parallel world, with its parallel Kings College Hospital, parallel MRI equipment, parallel doctors. And its very different ethos and morality. And yet, it was the same hospital, equipment, doctors...
A true story. It would be difficult to invent a tale that better sums up what Tony Blair’s Thatcherite New Labour government is doing to the NHS. To one of the greatest achievements of the British working class movement, acting through the reform Labour government which set up the NHS in 1948.
This government is relentlessly working to dismantle the NHS. Step by step the NUS is being undermined and replaced by private health care — for those who can pay.
That is the answer to one of the great mysteries of the last eight years. Why, throwing vast sums of money into the NHS, has the government — which could act with such reckless vigour when it came to invading Iraq — been unable to sort out the NHS?
Why is it possible that a woman needing a brain scan has to wait 18 months? (After the case received wide publicity, Rachel King has now been given an appointment in September.)
Why are there 5,000 deaths a year now among hospital patients, who go to hospital for a cure and then catch their death — infection! It almost beggars belief!
How can such a seemingly simple thing as hospital cleanliness to save 5,000 lives a year remains unachievable to a 21st century government?
To the people who set up and ran the early NHS such a thing would have seemed inconceivable! Weren’t generations of kids at school told that the beginning of modern nursing was Florence Nightingale in the 1850s introducing elementary hygiene into the hospitals where soldiers wounded in the Crimean War were housed? (The more effective, black, working-class nurse Mary Seacole in the same war was of course, written out of history for more than a hundred years.)
The explanation for the mysterious incapacity of the Government to sort out the NHS is that... it doesn’t want to.
That is also why the press, much of which backs private medicine and not the NHS, is forever — justly — going on about the short-comings of the NHS. They want to undermine and dismantle it.
Therefore they want sick people in desperation to “go private”. “Psst, ring this number!”
NHS doctors’ surgeries display ads for the private medical firm BUPA.
Dave Prentis of UNISON has told the government that UNISON will organise a campaign of strikes to defend members rights. Not before time!
The unions should tell the government that the labour movement will not continue peacefully to tolerate the sustained campaign to undermine and destroy the NHS.
If this government isn’t stopped and forced to retreat, there will be little that is recognisable left of the NHS a decade on from now. The unions should tell Blair: enough is enough!