The NHS was once described by a former Chancellor of Exchequer as the ‘closest thing the English have to a national religion’. I’m not sure of his original intention, but it is usually repeated on the right with a sneer. It precedes an argument that we are blind to its deficiencies, and celebrate a system which soaks up eye-watering amounts of tax revenue for mediocre outcomes.
It’s a silly argument which takes little effort to refute, but latterly I have started to see a kernel of truth in the reference to religion. There is a particular type of zealot on the left, usually found online, with a series of inflexible beliefs about the NHS which bear little relation to what it is, and what it needs to do. Chief amongst them is an obsession that politicians on the right have a secret plan to privatise the NHS. Never mind how such a plan can be kept secret; what the motivation would be; or any actual evidence for it. It is now an article of faith.
There was a good example of this recently when the new Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said that a Labour government would consider using private providers to clear NHS waiting lists.
Amongst those outraged by the prospect of such ideological impurity was an actual member of Labour’s NEC who tweeted that ‘No part of the NHS should be in the hands of private companies’. God help us when she find out about the last 75 years of general practice.
It is a strange type of socialist who prioritises their own imagined ideal of the NHS over real-life patient care. But no matter, clinicians will carry on providing the best care they can, while zealots prioritise purity. I know which path I would choose.