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Social justice
23 March 2012

"The NHS did not save my life"

Deborah Orr is a Guardian columnist who doesn’t like the NHS bill and is rude about Conservatives.

Somewhat unremarkable, you might think, but as the bill passes its final Parliamentary hurdles, she uses her column to smash a few taboos.

She starts with some personal context – a letter from the NHS inviting her to book a “routine three-yearly breast screening”. The only problem is that she’s been receiving NHS treatment for breast cancer for the past two years. There are further details, each exposing the bureaucratic side of the NHS and what it means for the frightened human beings who have to deal with it.

Emphasising her commitment to the NHS ideal, Ms Orr nevertheless delivers a few home truths:

  • "I'm complaining, even though the NHS saved my life.
  • Except, here's the thing. The NHS did not save my life. Medical science saved my life. New drugs saved my life. New procedures saved my life. New equipment saved my life. The human progress that saved my life was the fruit of a combination of systems: some funded by the state (various states), some funded charitably, some – many – private, commercial and profit-making. The idea that the NHS currently stands apart from all this – pure, unsullied, impervious to the evil blandishments of hard-headed business – the one institution that stands single-handedly between ourselves and our preventable deaths, is utterly fallacious."

Deborah Orr might not think much of Coalition healthcare policy, but her words go well beyond anything a minister could ever say about the NHS. The cause of this reticence is eloquently described in her concluding remarks:

  • “…[the] feverishly hostile, mud-slinging form of collective revisionism that insists on dramatic, romantic idealisation of the NHS. It alienates me, this tendency. I'm sure I'm not the only one.”

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