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September 2011

Demographic Panic

One of the factors that is said to underpin the ‘no change is not an option’ need to reform the NHS is our ageing population, the so-called grey tsunami, or demographic time bomb. This all party political IED is sitting there, we are told, with a short and inextinguishable fuse. If we don’t do something now to counter it, then we are all, as Frazer would have put it, doomed. But are we? Captain Mainwaring and his platoon survived any number of Frazer’s doom-laden predictions.

Dr No rather suspects that this alleged time bomb is indeed more political wheeze to panic us into accepting the ‘necessity’ for ‘radical’ reform – opening up the NHS to private service providers, and inevitably in due course private funding - than reality. Let us for a moment consider some of the alleged ‘facts’.

It’s the Market, Stupid!

Attila the Humph attempted to interview Mr Lansley on the Today Programme earlier this week. Attila was in Gatling mode, achieving as usual more noise than hits. Lansley, on the other hand, was operating in lounge lizard mode, and the lizard just kept on talking. He also slithered a lot, but Atilla’s attacks bounced off him like dried peas off a plate glass window. The problem was that Atilla, despite having been tipped the big question by his previous interviewee, the King’s Fund’s John Appleby, was stuck in semi-automatic mode, and stayed stuck, like the proverbial to a blanket, while the lizard sped off, like the proverbial from a shovel.

The Impotence of Baffled Malice

One of the baffling aspects of the Tories’ plan to privatise the NHS is the persistent, mis-representation of facts that has been such a feature of their campaign. The opening case for the reforms – that UK health outcomes are amongst the poorest in Europe – rested on a bed of bent numbers, promptly shown to be misleading. More recently, we have had Mr Cameron saying the ‘the whole health profession’ - the whole health profession? - last time Dr No checked there were several - ‘is on board’, despite clear evidence that the professions, whole or otherwise, had jumped ship some time ago. In April, an overwhelming 99% of RCN Congress nurses voted no confidence in Lansley’s management of the reforms. In March, a special BMA meeting noted widespread concern about the reforms, and called for the Bill to be withdrawn. More recently, an RCGP survey of 500 GPs conducted after the ‘listening exercise’ found only a maverick 4% strongly backed the reforms. Only last week, the BMA wrote to all MPs, warning that the Government’s health reforms presented an ‘unacceptably high risk to the NHS, threatening its ability to operate effectively and equitably, now and in the future’.

The Prongs of Privatisation

In the ocean of amendments and opinions swilling round and threatening to drown sensible debate about the Tories’ Health and Social Care Bill, and its likely impact on the national health service, there is nonetheless a constant tide that ebbs and flows: the question of privatisation. Critics of the Bill – including Dr No – claim the Bill will, not so much by a big bang, as by the back door, bring about wholesale privatisation of our once national health service. Those for the Bill have been equally vehement that nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, the Department of Health in its recent tabloid style ‘Myth Buster’ release – BIFF! SoS won’t wash his hands of the NHS! ZAP! Private patients won’t jump the NHS queue! – dismissed the privatisation claim as CRUMP! ‘ludicrous scaremongering!’. For the better understanding of any thickos who still haven’t got the point, the Department adds: ‘We have made it crystal clear, time and again, that we will never, ever, privatise the NHS’.