Keir Starmer’s diagnosis of the NHS is correct. ‘If we don’t get real about reform, the NHS will die,’ he says. The Labour leader, and odds-on favourite to be next PM, has called for an ‘unsentimental’ shake-up of a service that is undeniably failing. Millions are waiting for treatment, ambulance waits are so long they are stretching the axis on graphs and good luck even getting your GP to answer the phone. ‘The idea that the service is still “the envy of the world” is plainly wrong,’ he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
So why have we not seen meaningful reform yet? Starmer points to the esteem in which the health service is held. Reform is challenging when almost any suggestion for change – other than pouring cash into the bottomless pit – is seen as an attack on our doctors and nurses or a backdoor attempt to sell it off. That’s certainly why 12 years of Tory government has failed to touch it. Best to let Labour do it, they say in private.
The Thursday night clapping and pan bashing for carers during the pandemic exemplifies the point. Some doctors I’ve spoken to had their heads in their hands at the scenes. They were, of course, grateful to feel appreciated by their public, but it was an escalation in the deification of the health service. Britain’s national theology isn’t really Anglicanism or Protestantism. It’s the NHS.
But now that sentiment might be changing. Two thirds of us now consider the NHS to provide a bad service. The Times splashed with the news this morning that 66 per cent of voters think the NHS is bad and that 80 per cent feel it has got worse over the past five years.