Owen Patterson’s call to “break the consensus surrounding the NHS”, in his recent speech at his own think-tank – is nothing more than a smokescreen to re-open a debate around the marketisation of the NHS, as opposed to a mere altruistic attempt to address the real and serious problems which the NHS faces.
I suspect it’s also part of a crude long-term campaign which has beleaguered the NHS since its foundation by Aneurin Bevan and the Attlee Government. The Tory right are not hostile to the NHS because it fails, but because it works. Because it demonstrates the value of public provision and the vital role of government.
His speech relies on the research carried out by Dr Kristian Niemietz – of the unashamedly free-marketeer think-tank the Institute for Economic Affairs.
Some of Dr Niemietz’s other work includes pieces such as the absurdly titled “Those who oppose ‘NHS privatisation’ are really opposed to patient choice” , Forget NHS romanticism: Market-based healthcare is far better for patients and one in which he argues that, “countries with pluralistic healthcare systems – in which patients enjoy ample choice between public, private for-profit and private non-profit providers – record some of the best health outcomes in the world.”
Far from offering realistic solutions to the problems facing the NHS, Patterson takes the time to whinge about the consensus around the NHS and its importance, moaning that: “to take a critical tone toward the NHS is considered almost unpatriotic.”
He openly floats the idea of greater private sector involvement in the NHS, “We could possibly learn from other countries about mixed funding models, combining taxes, state insurance, private insurance, health pensions, and delivery that combines private, charitable and state run providers,” but in a way typical of the current government’s dithering and lackadaisical attitude to public administration does “not [set] out any policy recommendations.”
Patterson has attempted to debunk the report of the highly regarded Commonwealth Fund, which ranked Britain’s NHS highest in comparison to the health services of 10 other nations—Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. Arguing instead that the NHS is 12th out of 25 in a comparison of other nations’ health service.
There are indeed problems faced by the NHS, some faced by all mature societies, and some which require urgent attention and unrelenting administration in order to fix, but, put bluntly, I wouldn’t trust Mr Owen “badgers moved the goalposts” Patterson with providing the solution to them. However, this is part of a serious and systematic attack on the principles of the NHS and Labour must respond vigorously and relentlessly.