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David T Breaker: Britain's cult-like worship of the NHS must end

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I was never going to enjoy the Olympics, being as it is a taxpayer funded circus; I am the original Olympic grinch, boring fellow Sixth Formers back in 2005 about the cost, the growing deficit, and of course taxes. Yet what I wasn't expecting was an Opening Ceremony that I still remember in utter disbelief, a social worker's history of Britain, one thousand years of history dumbed down into a leftist narrative - peasant ruritania swept away by top hatted industrialists and their satanic mills before being vanquished by pop music - with at the centre a paganistic fire ceremony, the Fire God's name ablaze across the ground: NHS. It was bizarre, wasn't it?

Of course, as befits a "national religion" that in those moments assumed national idol status, any criticism is deemed heretical. To comment that the NHS worship was inappropriate, that such a feature was left-wing and quasi-Soviet in character, to dare suggest that the NHS isn't the "envy of the world", is to invite and incite the angry mob, pitchforks and flaming Olympic torches in hand. To have anything but undying love for the NHS, anything but unqualified praise and admiration, is to be "unpatriotic" and "insulting to the NHS staff".

Now you could put this reaction down to the leftwards leanings of Twitter users, from whom I received that feedback, yet the disease of delusion seems to be nationwide and epidemic in scale. Earlier this year the Commonwealth Fund researched the healthcare systems of developed nations to create an empirical structure for international comparison, which is the sort of research we should pay attention to but don't, and the results were overwhelming; on every subjective measure, across the board, Britain's NHS annihilated the competition. Us Brits were the most satisfied, the most confident, the most whole heartedly content with our healthcare, anywhere in the world, bar none; indeed if the NHS were any more popular we'd be trying to marry it, at severe risk of teenage girls standing in screaming mobs outside A&E, and having chart music songs about it. Even the Prime Minister, a late convert to Twitter, recently tweeted #welovethenhs, and the next Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby tweeted "NHS, annual Christmas present to the UK. #thanks4NHS."

Yet the problem lies in that single word: subjective; "adjective, based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions. Contrast with objective." And indeed by contrast, as stark as night and day, Britain's performance in every objective measure (ie not dying) was utterly abysmal, dire, indeed an absolute disgrace. The NHS was ranked worst for five-year survival rates in cervical, breast, and colon cancer, worst for mortality rates for either hemorrhagic or ischemic stroke. On measure after measure the NHS was found wanting. Only on diabetic foot amputation was the NHS "envy of the world", which I guess is proof that just as a broken clock is right twice a day - once if digital - even the most disastrous healthcare system in the developed world can get something right.

However just as the fact Mussolini got the trains to run on time doesn't count for much, the fact that the NHS wins the gold in the avoidance of diabetic foot amputation is no reason for gaining a pass, let alone the hysterical adulation lavished upon an institution that in every conceivable way is failing. Each year around 155 people die in the NHS from dehydration, including one young man who even called 999 to request water only for the Police to be turned away; an estimated 10,000 deaths a year could be prevented if England's one-year cancer survival rates were as good as others in Europe, a figure over five times the annual number of fatalities on British roads; the survival rate for early-stage breast cancer is only 78%, against 97% in the United States; only 70% of patients with early-stage colo-rectal cancer live for five years in Britain, against 90% in the U.S. and 80% in Germany; around 360 people die annually from hospital acquired infections; research by Imperial College London found that 1 in 20 deaths in hospitals are avoidable, a death toll of around 12,000 a year or the equivalent of four September 11th attacks, with other research placing that figure at up to 40,000; and whereas Brits once outlived our French neighbors by six years, today the average Frenchman enjoys an entire extra year of garlic selling, red wine drinking and baguette baking than an Englishman this side of the Channel.

Despite which the NHS remains more popular than Mother Theresa, with the annual Patient Satisfaction Survey finding that nine in ten patients rate their care as good, very good or excellent. Even the revelations that the NHS not only covered up but technically facilitated abuse of vulnerable patients by Jimmy Savile, granting him access and accommodation, or the shocking disgrace of the Liverpool Care Pathway - where patients have had treatments and fluids removed without concent - seem to slide off like water on a duck's back. Indeed the most recent suggestion regarding the NHS was the idea of licensing its brand internationally, an idea patently absurd; why would they want it?

Yet still the national obsession with the NHS continues, anything but undying love deemed heretical. The truth however, as painful as it may be, is that the NHS is failing, is in no way deserving of such worship, and cannot continue this way. Of course there must be the standard caveats that there are great staff in the NHS, and this is in no way an attack on them - Britain's New Year resolution should be to get thicker skin and cease being so sensitive - but fear of upset cannot silence us. The NHS is failing, and people are dying as a result. Things don't change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing, but how much worse must the NHS get before Britain ends this deadly love affair?


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