Dispatches From the Front Lines of Socialized Medicine

Forget Verdun, dismiss Iwo Jima.

Britain’s National Health Service is the latest killing field:

It is indeed astonishing that none of the management overseeing Mid Stafford has yet been held accountable. And if specific allegations are brought forward of willful neglect on the ward floor, especially any amounting to manslaughter, there should absolutely be a police inquiry. Anything less would let down the victims and I salute the Telegraph’s campaign to bring their families justice.

What we need now, in fact, is to tear down the entire edifice of power in the NHS establishment. Its old-boys’ network of trade unions, Royal Colleges and top civil servants all share blame for the culture of secrecy, gagging and hidden performance.

The evidence is that ordinary people want much more openness, choice and control in the NHS. They want an end to the state’s virtual monopoly and a free choice of different providers. They want information about the care hospitals and GPs deliver for patients taken out of bureaucratic obscurity and presented for all to see.

Giving people what they want in this way would transform NHS care. The abuse at Mid Stafford simply wouldn’t survive in a more open, choice-led NHS. If patients were empowered with simple information, like league tables of hospitals, and they had complete freedom to choose any provider they wished, the resulting competition would be a much more powerful catalyst for improvement than anything Francis proposes.

Hang about… are they saying that centralized, government-run health care is dangerous? That it leads to abuse and even death? That consumer choice not only improves the quality of care, but can actually save lives?

That Britain is trying to pull itself out of this tar pit while we gaily hurl ourselves in?

But surely the government will save us!

Not bloody likely (and don’t call me Shirley):

Two of Britain’s top doctors said there is still pressure on NHS staff not to speak up if they are worried about bad practice.

Norman Williams, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, told The Times (£) that pressure to ignore problems and “coercive practices” are widespread.

“There is no question from speaking to different fellows and members around the country that this is still going on,” he said.

Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, told the same newspaper that there is an “an NHS culture that actively discourages the raising of concerns internally”, which has tended to “react with disproportionate hostility in the rare cases where clinicians have made their concerns known publicly”.

An “NHS culture.” What an alien concept (though soon to be more familiar): that a mere government agency charged with providing an essential service to the public has a “culture”, much less a hostile one.

But of course the NHS is more than that. It is mummy, daddy, and nanny rolled into one. Free (or seemingly so), it’s just always been there, and you take what it gives you. But endless wait-lists are one thing; intimidation and death are quite another.

But that is the nature of government: wheezing, sclerotic, impacted. And there’s no known cure.

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