(Mr and Mrs Kitchen are away)
You know there's an election looming when the Tories and Labour start battling for the dubious honour of being the "party of the NHS". The deification of this creaking, bloated and massively over-rated money pit has always mystified me. But its reputation as an untouchable and glorious institution is set in stone and, for better or worse, it's here to stay. As the hysteria over Dan Hannan's comments shows, no debate can be had about socialised healthcare in this country beyond the spastic yelp of how we should pay nurses more money and refuse treatment to people we don't like.
The most pathetic attack on Hannan came from Andy Burnham, whose resemblance to a ventriloquist's dummy in mascara gets more uncanny with every passing day.
"I would almost feel... it is unpatriotic because he is talking in foreign media and not representing, in my view, the views of the vast majority of British people and actually, I think giving an unfair impression of the National Health Service himself, a British representative on foreign media."
He said Mr Hannan's words were an "insult" to the 1.4m NHS workers and "he should not be voicing those views in the foreign media in my view".
Come off it, Burnham. It's a little thing we call free speech. Patriotism doesn't come into it. Do the words 'scoundrel' and 'last refuge' mean anything to you, unctuous little turd that you are?
When dickheads like Burnham resort to appealing to national pride, you know the argument's been lost. You may recall the equally hopeless Tom Harris using the same tactic earlier in the year when Hannan tore into our thieving, half-blind bastard of a Prime Minister:
What was truly repugnant about his speech was the total absence of any sense of patriotism...
Gordon Brown isn’t just Labour’s prime minister; he’s Britain’s prime minister, and for any UK politician to launch such a disgraceful, personal attack on his country’s leader — in a foreign country — is nothing short of disgraceful.
Or, to put it another way: "We all know the NHS is shit and that Gordon Brown's a cunt, but let's not tell the rest of the world, eh?". Well, fuck that. Hannan was right then and he's right now.
Liberal Conspiracy, frothing at the mouth at Hannan's attack on the "largest, most respected, and most valued of British institutions", has also been swept away with a sense of burning patriotism:
Watching Daniel Hannan speaking as a supposed representative for Britain on Fox News, bleating about how our country has been rendered feral and crippled by the NHS is enough to raise a sudden, unexpected swell of patriotism normally reserved for the success of a British icon on the global stage or spectacular sporting defeats.
It's all very touching. Perhaps now would be a good time to start a war. But instead of resorting to knee-jerk patriotism and sending nauseating messages via fucking Twitter, how about looking at what Hannan actually said? (His two main interviews can be seen here and here).
1. The UK has "bad survival rates".
From The Telegraph:
Cancer survival rates in Britain are among the lowest in Europe, according to the most comprehensive analysis of the issue yet produced.
Survival rates are based on the number of patients who are alive five years after diagnosis and researchers found that, for women, England was the fifth worst in a league of 22 countries. Scotland came bottom. Cancer experts blamed late diagnosis and long waiting lists.
Whereas the USA has the best cancer survival rates:
American women have a 63 percent chance of living at least five years after a cancer diagnosis, compared to 56 percent for European women.
American men have a five-year survival rate of 66 percent — compared to only 47 percent for European men.
I think we have to chalk this up as one for Hannan.
2. "People who have conditions that they try to buy drugs for independently are told that their whole treatment will be stopped."
From The Guardian:
The husband of a woman who died of cancer but was denied free NHS treatment because the couple chose to pay privately from their savings for a drug to prolong her life yesterday urged the government to change its guidelines.Linda O'Boyle, 64, who had bowel cancer, is believed to be the first person to die after fighting for the right for top-up NHS treatment alongside privately purchased cancer medicine - so-called co-payment. Six other patients are launching a legal action to allow NHS patients to top up their care with private drugs.
Dr Crippen has other examples of this disgusting policy, even if he does think that Hannan is a prick.
Two nil, Hannan.
3. "We have 1.4 million people employed by the NHS. It is the third biggest employer in the world."
From The Times:
NHS is world's biggest employer after Indian rail and Chinese Army
And from the Daily Mail:
Between 1999 and 2005, the number of NHS staff increased from 1.1million to 1.4million, up 24 per cent. Growth was fastest amongst senior managers - up 62 per cent over that period, with the number of doctors increasing by 30 per cent and nurses by 23 per cent.
Or, to put it another way, there is an NHS employee for every 43 people. And with a budget of £90 billion, it costs each British citizen £1,500 a year to keep the thing going. That works out at about £70,000 in a working life.
In exchange for this eye-watering sum of money, you will be told how to live and may be refused surgery if the powers at be don't like your lifestyle - even if all you did was break your ankle. And don't expect a refund.
Smoker refused operation on broken ankleA smoker is facing years of pain after an NHS hospital refused to set his broken ankle unless he gives up cigarettes.John Nuttall, 57, needs the operation to fix the ankle he broke in three places two years ago and which was not healed by a plaster cast.Mr Nuttall, from Newlyn, west Cornwall, said: "I have begged them to operate but they won't. I have tried my hardest to give up smoking but I can't."I want to warn other smokers. We have paid our National Insurance stamps all our lives and now we are being shut out of the NHS."
Three nil Hannon.
4. "Most of those 1.4 million people are administrators"
From the Taxpayers Alliance:
In September there were 408,200 qualified nurses in the NHS; 25,700 midwives; 34,010 GPs; 34,900 consultants; and 49,200 other hospital doctors. There were also 1,450 school nurses; and 39,900 managers.
The total of employees above comes to 593,360 - less than half of the 1.4 million total. What do the rest do? Some will be administrators, but some will be cleaners, caterers or any number of other things. There are, unquestionably, a fuck load of administrators working in the NHS, but to say that "most" of the 1.4 million are administrators is an exaggeration.
5. There are "huge waiting lists".
From the BBC:
CURRENT WAITING TIMES IN ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND
8 months for cataract surgery
11 months for a hip replacement
12 months for a knee replacement
5 months to repair a slipped disc
5 months for a hernia repair
These figures come from the BBC's report of 27 May 2004. If you look at this interview with Hannan, you will see the same figures on the screen. Notice, however, that Fox News have changed the date to 27 May 2009. Proof if proof were needed that Fox News isn't always the most reliable news source.
Have things changed much since 2004? It's hard to say. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis:
Americans spend less time waiting for care than patients in Canada and the U.KCanadian and British patients wait about twice as long - sometimes more than a year - to see a specialist, to have elective surgery like hip replacements or to get radiation treatment for cancer. All told, 827,429 people are waiting for some type of procedure in Canada. In England, nearly 1.8 million people are waiting for a hospital admission or outpatient treatment.
Reliable statistics on US waiting times are hard to find. As for the UK having huge waiting times, it depends on what you call 'huge'. The average waiting time for inpatients is just over two months, and just over a month for outpatients, according to the NHS. There's no doubt that waiting lists have come down under Labour, even though it took a doubling in NHS spending to do it.
According to the ludicrous Andy Burnham, there are no waiting lists at all:
“We have no waiting lists now in the NHS and people have full choice of NHS hospitals.”
Burnham's a gobshite and Hannan is basically correct. 4-1.
6. "I could tell you horror stories about elderly people left starving in wards."
From The Telegraph:
Patients left to starve on NHS wards
The number of NHS patients suffering from malnourishment as they leave hospital has nearly doubled, new figures show. Around 140,000 patients were discharged after being inadequately fed on NHS wards last year, statistics obtained by the Conservatives reveal...
Michael Summers of the Patients' Association said: "Families tell us that when visiting elderly relatives in hospital in particular they noticed how malnourished they are.
"Nurses are so rushed off their feet that it is no surprise that patients end up malnourished. We have heard stories of elderly people who haven't had a meal all day because they have just been overlooked. The food is just taken away when the patient hasn't been able to eat any of it.
"It is a scandal in the 21st century - it ought never to happen."
7. "We have far fewer GPs per head of population than you have in North America"
Statistics vary enormously for this. Take your pick out of this lot. All but one agree that the USA has more doctors per head than the UK, but to say that we have "far fewer" is an exaggeration.
Hannan finishes 5-2 up by my reckoning. One or two exaggerations but nothing that warrants treating him like a child-molesting war criminal.
Let's take a deep breath. A fairly obscure Conservative politician with a voice like Richard Madeley has pointed out some draw-backs in our health system. He's not John the Baptist, but he's not Lord Haw Haw either.
Have a good weekend.