The NHS is perhaps the most cherished institution in the UK, and yet the question mark over its future has grown bigger and more threatening than ever in recent years of recession and austerity. Even now, in a period of relative economic stability, its prospects remain uncertain; the government lacks a decisive plan of action to ensure its survival in the public sector. Almost daily reports of our healthcare system’s decreasing quality and frequent failings are less suggestive of transparency, and more suggestive of a privatisation agenda gaining momentum.
UKIP has become the latest party embroiled in NHS controversy. Nigel Farage has come full circle regarding his views on privatisation, beginning last year when a video was leaked in which he said: “Frankly, I would feel more comfortable that my money would return value if I was able to do that through the market-place of an insurance company.” Party disagreement forced him to retract the statement in November, but Farage reiterated his original sentiment last week where he suggested that the NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance within the next ten years and that debate “will be needed.” Again, his remarks were quickly rejected by the UKIP’s Health spokesperson, leaving the party in a state of disunity, and his comments subject to even more scrutiny than usual.
It comes as no surprise that as a white middle-class man, Nigel Farage would rather be able to use his money to return value if and when it was necessary, under a health insurance system because, quite simply, he has such a privilege. The aim of the NHS is to provide healthcare to everyone, whether or not they could otherwise afford it because healthcare is a morally just provision; as Aneurin Bevan once said: “No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of a lack of means.”
The NHS we know now is not the one that was launched in 1948. The ageing population, changing nature of diseases and other lifestyle choices mean that a whole new sets of challenges are faced by our health services. The NHS has evolved, and must continue to do so as our needs change: that is precisely why such a system it is so precious. What we have begun to see through increasing involvement of the private sector is a preoccupation with profits over patient care. Combined with job cuts and an increasing strain on the public sector budget, waiting times for patients have increased which point to a more general fall in the quality of care.
Nigel Farage, who claims to represent the ‘ordinary people,’ has proven himself to be as out of touch and detached from their best interests as he portrays his rivals to be. However, in highlighting the importance of debate, Farage makes a single valid point: a dialogue is the key in the future of the NHS and it is our national responsibility to encourage and respect it.
Under right-wing parties, whose interests do not align with those of the most vulnerable members of our society, the privatisation of the NHS will slowly but surely continue until it disintegrates into something completely unrecognisable. To ensure its survival we must be both vigilant and aware of the changes which are being made by way of back-door policies, and open to innovative means of change without creating a capitalist monster that resembles the American system of healthcare. The privatisation of the NHS is not inevitable if we take an active role in its preservation.
Image courtesy of Rudolf Vicek (Flickr)