The selling off of our national health service is now hotting up. The headline in the Guardian this morning says ‘Doctors lead outcry at plan to scrap A&E target’ and the article below it explains what this is all about.
There is a long established waiting time for emergency care in A&E. ‘95% of people arriving at A&E in England are meant to be treated and then discharged, admitted or transferred within four hours.’ Now because so many beds have been shut by the government and so many staff have left and there has been a ten year squeeze on the NHS budget, this target is often not met, through no fault of the dedicated teams in the A&E departments.
Now we all hear that the health secretary, the renowned Matt Hancock, intends to axe this target because ‘it is no longer deemed to be clinically appropriate’. Or to put it another way – it is not ‘clinically appropriate’ to treat NHS patients in A&E departments within four hours because the government says so. It is a sign of the times. Soon people who pay privately for medical attention will get it and fairly promptly, people who have paid their taxes and their national insurance contributions for their medical attention, will not.
We are back to what was happening in the thirties, when a doctor called to attend a sick patient, would not see him or her until he had received his fee, which could be anything from one guinea to ten. And this at a time when most working class people thought themselves lucky if they could earn more than two pounds a week. They were the unfair and painful conditions that obtained in those days and led directly to William Beveridge’s report and the founding of the national health service and the welfare state by the incoming Labour government of 1945. Or to put it another way Mr Johnson’s government are putting the clock back eighty to ninety years.
There are other, more subtle, signs of this change in attitude too. The last two or three times I’ve dared to phone my local surgery for the help I need, I’ve had to listen to a long and very pointed lecture from one of the doctors, the gist of which being that if we are ringing for medical help we should consider ways in which we can help ourselves, because, as the last recorded voice put it, over three quarters of the requests for help that the clinic received were for things that could very easily be dealt with at a chemist’s shop and various other venues that he listed. It’s another, more subtle way of saying ‘we cannot see you if you do not pay the fee’. The surgery is now divided into two sections. One for NHS patients, the other for private patients. I’ll bet they don’t subject them to such a belittling lecture.
And I wonder, sadly, how long our NHS will survive when the big American pharmaceutical and medical companies begin to buy it up. After all, Mark Britnell promised that this would happen back in October 2013, so they’ve waited a long time.