A.R. Kneen, on ‘our’ NHS
Truth matters. So, too, does freedom, privacy, independence and human rights. But truth arguably matters above all of these. NHS workers, including doctors and nurses, work for money. They get paid to do a job. This should not be considered a controversial statement. Arguably, a proportion of NHS workers get over-paid relative to their ability and performance levels. And some do not provide a good service to patients.
In all fields of paid employment, we find people who do a good job, people who do not. For example, certain people think that all police are terrible. That is not true. Some police are bad, and the over-exercise, if not abuse of power by police officers has been recently demonstrated. However, most police officers do a fine job. Likewise, there are Catholics who believe that all priests are beneficent and do nothing but good for the people they serve. This is not actually true. A number of priests have molested children, and are evil. One could go through all forms of employment and find average performance, good performance, poor performance, and excellent performance. This is true of solicitors, builders, dentists, hairdressers, soldiers, teachers, scientists etc. It also pertains to those who work in the NHS.
Everyone is aware of the evil acts committed by some NHS staff. An NHS doctor in Greater Manchester, one Harold Shipman, murdered many of his patients. He was convicted in court of 15 murders, and subsequently committed suicide in prison. However, a public inquiry estimated that he may have murdered over 200 more of his patients, and some suspect a lot more than that, considering him ‘Britain’s most prolific serial killer’. There have been other such cases, including an NHS nurse, also in Greater Manchester, convicted of murdering 2 patients and poisoning another 20 – another ‘Angel of Death’. NHS staff have also been convicted of sexually assaulting and even raping patients, including children.
The NHS has done harm to members of the public in other ways. For example, ‘the blood scandal’ left people with terrible diseases, including HIV and hepatitis, after the NHS used infected blood. And then there are the numerous people who died, due to inadequate care by the NHS. This included botched operations, incorrect treatments, misadministration of drugs, misdiagnoses and many other ‘daily’ failures such as an unacceptably high level of hospital-acquired infections – these being largely the result of careless hygiene practices within NHS hospitals.
One wonders how these victims of the NHS feel when they see people clapping for the NHS every Thursday. And it does not end there. Large illuminated advertising boards are erected over roads thanking the NHS, using gushing terms like ‘our wonderful NHS’. And these signs can be seen on a smaller scale as people and organisations signal their thanks and praise, often with rainbows pictured too, and put these signs up on fences, entrances, buildings and suchlike.
People used to laugh at the homage paid to the state in countries like North Korea. It was common to hear derogatory comments about the people cheering the leaders and/or state organisations in these countries. But it is now happening here every Thursday at 8pm. And the media celebrate the clapping and cheering, to the neglect of other issues. Indeed, the news at the moment appears to be designed to serve other purposes than to inform.
NHS staff doubtless enjoy the homage being paid to them. And they currently enjoy tangible benefits from this situation. For example, a number of supermarkets have allocated special time slots during which NHS staff can shop in peace. One supermarket is giving a 10% discount on all purchases if NHS identification is produced at the till.
Exalting any group of government employees poses potential risks to the public. It is possible that this could decrease the quality of service that patients receive from the NHS. Accountability is important in any job, but when one can so easily damage (and even kill) a person, as medics can, this is much more significant. Accountably for NHS staff was already low, and has been cited in a number of NHS scandals. Editorial comment; notably the illegal retention and abuse of organs at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.
Problems within the NHS existed well before the coronavirus epidemic; the current crisis only exacerbates them. The past record of the NHS was poor. On many objective measures, the NHS performed badly, notably re waiting times, cancer outcomes, infection rates in hospitals etc. There were other issues of concern such as the management of the NHS, exorbitant salaries for some, private finance initiatives (PFI) etc. We have long been used to politicians and media pundits praising the NHS and being insufficiently critical about its many failings.
Some time ago, this writer visited a friend in hospital. On the ward was an elderly lady who had been operated upon previously, but due to a hospital-acquired infection she had to endure further surgery. Although this was a surgical ward, the place was filthy. And it was not all recent dirt either – one could clearly see the build-up of detritus along the edges and under the beds – dirt and dust clumps that had obviously accumulated over a significant period of time. Nobody had dared to mention the filth – and when the writer politely pointed it out to a nurse she was told that aggressive behaviour would not be tolerated, and that if it persisted, her visit would be terminated.
Another nurse came round during visiting time, and moved from patient to patient without cleaning or sterilising her hands. The elderly lady lay there, but all that she could say was how grateful she was, and that if she won the lottery she would give it all to the nurses, as they were so poorly paid. At this point, another visitor objected – he stated that he worked 12 hour shifts of non-stop, hard work for a minimum wage, and that the nurses got paid more than he did for a lot less work. He then asked the elderly woman patient what she thought nurses were paid. She did not know, but continued to gush on about how grateful she was and that NHS services are free.
Doubtless those who stand and clap for the NHS every Thursday mean well. But many of them have been manipulated by the media. The propaganda levels in relation to the NHS are even higher than usual. The understandably elevated levels of fear are evidently a contributory factor here.
Citizens of this country pay a lot of money, through their income taxes, for the NHS. NHS employees get paid for their work. The service could be better. It was already poor. No government organisation should be above criticism. Challenging harm being done by the NHS will become even harder if the public are persuaded that this institution is predominantly staffed by angels.
Dr A.R. Kneen is a writer and researcher
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