Two years ago, when it became clear that the National Health Service could end up being overwhelmed by a new and potentially terrifying virus, the British people leapt to its support. During a temporary reprieve from state-mandated lockdowns, people around the country emerged from their homes and stood at their front doors to cheer and bang pots and pans for health-care workers caring for patients infected with Covid-19. Those joining the collective roar of applause and cheers included some well-known faces—such as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was still in self-isolation, having suffered a serious bout of the virus himself. He stepped out of Number 10 to join the mass display of public adulation. Elsewhere, monuments across Britain, from London’s Shard to the Manchester Central Centre, were turned a shade of blue in the NHS’s honor.
Since its inception in 1948, Britain’s state-funded system of health care, free at the point of use, remains more or less sacrosanct. The National Health Service is the closest thing the English have to a religion, in Nigel Lawson’s famous remark. Adherents revere Aneurin Bevin—the NHS’s founder—and public displays of worship are commonplace. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony to the 2018 Olympics was a contrived tribute to the NHS. The British government bestowed its highest civilian award, the George Cross, on the NHS for its handling of the pandemic.
Yet all is not well. To extend Lawson’s metaphor, the flock are growing fractious. Much has changed in the last two years. According to a British Social Attitudes survey, public satisfaction with the NHS has fallen to its lowest level since 1997. For the first time in 20 years, more citizens were dissatisfied with the NHS compared with those who were satisfied—just 36 percent said they were satisfied last year.
With almost 6 million individuals waiting for operations, the NHS now has its largest waiting list since records began. To put that into perspective, one in ten Britons are waiting for treatment—with thousands waiting months for crucial cancer diagnoses and millions more in need of lifesaving operations.
In order to expedite waiting times and help clear the enormous backlog, in his autumn budget Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak introduced a 1.25 percentage point increase in National Insurance contributions—levied on both employers and employees. Estimated to raise £36 billion over the next three years, the increase has been met with widespread criticism, not least from fellow Conservatives, who had viewed Sunak as a low-tax, fiscally conservative politician.
In recent years, economic mismanagement at the NHS has become more prevalent—especially as the health service falls captive to intersectional ideology, as illustrated by a number of job listings for equality, diversity, and inclusion managers. Manchester University NHS recently advertised for a “Matron for Well Being, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion,” a job carrying a £47,000–53,000 annual salary. However, the bigger money is in the gender industry. Devon Partnership NHS Trust is looking for a gender health consultant who can help “depathologize gender diversity.” This might explain why the Walton NHS Trust in Liverpool now asks men if they’re pregnant before undergoing scans. Few, if any, people know how to depathologize gender, but for a job paying £114,000 a year, many would be willing to learn.
But the winner of the most economically wasteful NHS job goes to Prerana Issar. The chief people officer in charge of diversity for the NHS was hired at a salary between £230,000 and £235,000. When you consider that an average nurse’s salary is £33,000, you can see where the NHS’s priorities lie—not with its patients, but with diversity ideology. Such a waste of money has gone unchallenged because criticism of the NHS is still widely regarded as beyond the pale. The merest suggestion of a new version of funding, such as a social insurance-based system favored in many European countries, is met with disdain by the Left as privatization in disguise and a betrayal of Bevan’s original decree.
The goal of all these non-jobs is to increase the diversity of the NHS workforce. Yet the health service is already diverse. In fact, minorities are overrepresented. Of the roughly 1.2 million staff employed by the NHS, roughly 20 percent are BAME (black, Asian, or minority ethnic) compared with 14 percent for the general population. Thirty percent of NHS medical staff are Asian, compared with a 7.5 percent Asian population throughout the country.
If Britons are serious about keeping the NHS, they need to rethink a few priorities. When Bevan introduced the NHS in 1948, the U.K. population stood at 49 million. Now, 74 years on, it’s approaching 70 million—a 43 percent increase. Britons are also living longer, which means more people and an aging population requiring complex care. We will never have enough money or staff to meet the mounting demands of our people. While a public health-care system continues to enjoy widespread support in Great Britain, every operation or treatment need not be carried out by NHS staff or on its premises. Private enterprise must be encouraged—and expanded—to improve efficiency and cut wasteful spending. Finally, the NHS has little time or resources to be wasting on irrational progressive ideology in health care. What’s more important: Getting a patient’s pronouns right, or treating his heart disease?
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