Most people wouldn’t mind the privatisation of schools, but when it comes to health, the debate mutates into different sets of principles, ethics and rationalisation. The main sticking point is that health is too important to be left in the hands of the private sector. And I will argue to the contrary that, because health is prodigiously essential, governments should not be allowed anywhere close to it.
I would like us to indulge in a little bit of history in order to put this discussion on an even keel. The word hospital came from France when in 1442 Nicolas Rolin, the chancellor of the Duke of Burgundy, and his wife built Hospices de Beaune. It was a charity health institution run for the benefit of the poor, which the English picked it up, and the concept spread all over Europe. Though it has earlier roots, it waned in the Middle Ages and the French put a spark to it again. Almost all the hospices were operated by religious order, which has nothing to do with the state. It was when Henry VIII took over as the head of the English church, after his dispute with Rome that the English hospices came under the control of the state. Until modern day hospital came into existence, as we know it, the rich were treated in their homes and they paid premium prices for the service. It was the poor that went to hospital at a fraction of the cost of the treatment. This historical fact proves that the poor have always been cared for without any state intervention.
The British National Health Service (NHS) was established after the devastation of the Second World War when production for the well-being of the population had been decimated and geared toward the winning of the war. This heinous war was started by statist socialist Germany in cahoots with, yet another of the evil statist persuasion – communist Soviet Union. The war literally destroyed the health of the British people, because there were rationing during the war and prior to that the economy had collapsed as a result of the 1929 stock market crash in America. This crash was needlessly prolonged by the amateurish actions of the U.S government. And, unfortunately, it was perpetuated by FDR until the WWII mopped up the excess unemployment, which brought the American economy back on track. As a result of the unusual circumstances, poverty was rife and people couldn’t afford the cost of their health needs and the bleeding heart socialists jump on the bandwagon to institute the NHS. The NHS was just a nationalisation of health delivery in Britain. And, of course, it was not just the health service, they nationalised everything. The aviation industry had been nationalised earlier. In 1948 it was the turn of the rail industry and as the years passed by a whole lot of industries were gobbled up. By 1979, when Thatcher came to power, almost all the British industries were in vegetative state. The powers of the unions have literally destroyed everything. For example, it took three months for a common phone to be connected to a British home when it was under the control of the government. In the U.S., such request took a heartbeat without any hassle. Britain was referred to as the sick man of Europe. Then entered Margaret Thatcher, and she busted the unions and sold off all the failing industries, and like magic they all started turning out profit.
However, because health is seen as a sacred cow nobody will there touch it. It is like the third rail in British politics, you touch it and you are a toast. Yet, the same mentality that destroyed most British industries, before they were sold off by Margaret Thatcher and even continued under New Labour, still persist in the NHS. Control of the service is in the hands of bureaucrats. They decide who gets what. There was an instance where a twelve-year-old girl was given a breast implant while other patients were on waiting list for life threatening operation for months, including a woman whose cancer became inoperable and died. When did IVF treatment became a health need? And currently, old women who cannot get treatment, because of their age go abroad to have the procedure, yet come back home for antenatal and postnatal care, which is costing the NHS a fortune.
The NHS is collapsing under its own weight, because it is free. People with simple cold who can get treatment from a pharmacy counter will book an appointment to see a General Practitioner and take a prescription that can be purchased for £3 and the NHS is billed for £8.20 besides the GPs time. Common sore throat that can be treated with lozenges is taken to the GP. As a result, GP surgeries are overwhelmed, and those who seriously need the GPs time had to resort to A&E, which is meant for serious cases. Due to that, the A&Es are at a breaking point. If you are young you think the NHS is wonderful. But if you are old and you immediately need hip replacement, and you are put on a waiting list for months, while a breast implant is given to 12 year old, then you will know that it is not that magnificent. The A&E departments are overwhelmed because of drunks who abuse their body and don’t have to pay for the services swarm A&E with wounds sustained from brawl when they lose consciousness from alcoholic substances. The NHS has been turned into big cash cow for those who know how to milk it. There are instances where people call sick, yet go to work for another practice as a result of their generous sick pay arrangement.
The problems of the NHS did not begin today; it started from the word go. The phrase brain drain, which is a buzz word in Ghana, was coined by the British to capture their frustration at the inception of the NHS, when they started losing doctors and medical scientists to United States and Canada in droves. It became so bad; a parliamentary commission was set up to investigate the new cancer that was threatening the survival of the nascent industry. Like in Ghana, they started using words like patriotism to appeal to the emotions of the scientists and the doctors to stay. And I am convinced that the invocation of patriotism, in all its forms, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Anytime you have a government applying such tactics then you know the path they have chosen is bad.
I took on this myth busting job mainly, because of what Mr Kofi Ata wrote in his piece about Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS trust in Britain. It was a complete falsehood he wrote about that trust. He would have done better to paint the whole picture. Before the private company called Circle took over this NHS franchise it was described by one health minister as ‘a clinical and financial basket case’. When the contract was awarded the trust had debts of £40 million and rising by £10 million each year. A department had been suspended as a result of unexplained deaths of some patients. Besides, the under-performing cancer and casualty units were under notice of closure. This is the state of affairs before Circle took over. When they started, £11 million was saved in waste. Can you imagine £3 million alone was saved when they ordered their own supplies instead of using NHS bulk purchasing? Mind you, in the purchasing industry, bulk purchases are supposed to bring cost down.
Within a short time of Circle taking over, things began to improve remarkably at the hospital. All the indicators started flourishing, including mortality levels, treatment time and waiting list dropped. And the most important, patients and staff satisfaction levels rocketed. Even very key positions were filled, besides slashing their locum bill. They even restored suspended services and met their cancer targets. Their A&E department, which was under threat of closure, was ranked among the best in U.K. It was a spectacular make over, and even won a national award. What else do you want if you a beneficiary? However, for some dinosaurs who were dead against privatisation stitched this company up with a damning Care Quality Commission report. The CQC report was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. This is what triggered Circle to pull out. Now, this is the million dollar question, if this hospital was performing so terribly how did they get to be named the best trust in England for quality of care. The eye clinic unit was nominated for a national award after receiving outstanding praise from patients and it was awarded the highest accreditation by the British Society of Urogynaecology for its pioneering work in improving care for patients. These patients led awards were received by the hospital, nonetheless, a group of outsiders came in and said patients were not being cared for. Where would you place your bet, the dinosaurs that are dead set against change or the patients? You don’t have to take my word for it; as you sit by your computer reading this on the web, you can just google and access the information yourself on Hinchingbrooke.
Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr