While I dismissed the “sexually inclusive” back hole, front hole and stick NHS story as amusing pc nonsense last week, as the lifetime supporter of a great and pioneering approach to affordable healthcare, I will confess that privately I was incandescent with anger that such things take place in a service already stretched to the limit by corrupt privateers.
The neoliberal nutjobs who undermine the NHS at every turn are beneath contempt, but they’ve had plenty of help from the Left over the decades. In the 1970s, COHSE radicalism and TUC overmanning desecrated Nye Bevan’s grave in myriad ways, and after 1997 Blairite “management” bollocks vastly inflated the payroll devoted to useless people….while the consultants they hired achieved little but wound up costing Britain a staggering £22bn in fees. An entire influx of observers, monitors and members of the Big Hair brigade invaded Britain’s hospitals, their high heels clicking along the cavernous corridors of ageing buildings soon to be screwed over by the greed of PSI.
I don’t point the finger at Labour alone, by the way: Ted Heath’s “reforms” added yet another layer of paper-shufflers after 1970. And on the whole, the admin side of the NHS got a whole lot more efficient after Blair’s third and final election victory.
But I can lose my rag entirely when I think of pc Kommissars with nothing more important on what passes for their minds than making human orifices sexually inclusive. Even if such folks were volunteers, they would still be a fecund nuisance in an organisation that should be focused 100% on the wellbeing of the innocent sick. But as things stand, they get paid an average of £43,000 per annum and wind up with a nice fat pension at the end of it. Last year, the NHS spent £8M on translators for patients who can’t speak English.
This is not nationalism, just sound sense: it should be impossible for anyone who can’t speak English to become a UK citizen, and equally impossible for anyone but citizens and English-speaking residents to access the Health Service. That is the situation in France – and you would be thought mad here if you questioned that idea.
I have only very rarely needed hospitalisation under the NHS. In 1957 at the age of nine, I was admitted to Booth Hall hospital in Manchester with suspected appendicitis. It turned out to be chronic constipation: as a kid I tended to ignore calls of nature as getting in the way of more interesting pursuits like climbing trees, footie and cricket.
Hospitals then were run on the basis of military discipline and strict hygiene. Nurses cowered before Sisters, and were petrified of Matron. There was none of this turning their noses up at a turd or projectile vomit: the nurses displayed a level of kindness and commitment that left every patient awestruck. It was ten years later before I needed an operation, this time to remove excess teeth. The experience was exactly the same: every ward was spotless, every nurse an exemplary personification of tough love. I remember my Dad (like my Mum, a right-wing Tory) waxing lyrical about how Britain led the world in free medical care.
Dad told me how his mother had put off paying money to a doctor to look at his sister’s septic leg wound: and as a result of that, his sister my Auntie Molly lost her leg….and it ruined her life. Grandma never got over the guilt, but the NHS had banished that sort of thing forever. To my father, none of this had anything to do with socialism: it was just compassion, and he was justifiably proud to be British on the basis of it.
Aged 16, my brother Mike – a talented cricketer – was hit by a full-toss beamer on the temple, and needed an operation to drain a blood clot on his brain. Yet again, the NHS came to the rescue. Already a survivor of peritonitis thanks to Nye Bevan’s invention, I remember Mike saying he had trouble adjusting after the blood clot hospital spell, because the kindness he’d been shown was so atypical of life in general.
Back then, ambulance-chasing lawyers were still inside the locked box of Pandora, it was thought admirable to have “a calling”, parents given a very high quality free education for their kids displayed supportive humility to our schools and their teachers, kids were frightened of coppers, and people like me were offered – with no strings or fees attached – the sort of social mobility that had previously been the dream of fluffy idealists. Quotas and forced, unreal “equality” had yet to be invented by ideological idiocy. Britain was morphing, at last, into being a meritocracy where social background, skin colour and religion were were irrelevancies.
But in 1964, the overwhelmingly bourgeois and privileged leaders of the Labour Party under Harold Wilson came to power. Their guilty goal was to demolish excellence in education, drift away from the realities of life, employ hollow slogans from US election campaigns and – above all – stop deprived kids from fulfilling their potential. Thirty three years later, an equally privileged and privately educated “New” Labour embraced focus groups, media spin and monetarist drivel while letting immigration rip.
Only by closing down social advancement and importing the New Poor has Labour retained any appeal to the electorate. And nothing helped them more in this respect than a Conservative Party that – in administration after administration – engaged in a systematic attack on investment on the very old, the very young, the very ill and home-grown British talent.
As histories go, they don’t come more ironic than that: in this life, we reap what we sow…and nothing has sown more divisive discontent than the combined efforts of monetarist Tories, and Labour’s race, class and gender warriors.
I remain a radical longing for an independent and confident United Kingdom driven by empirical compassion not ruthless ideological fantasy.