The day after America celebrated its independence and its founding principles of self-governance and liberty, across the pond, Britain paid tribute to its values of collectivism and statism by commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the National Health Service (NHS). Children’s choirs sang “Happy Birthday” at a thanksgiving church service celebrating the NHS at Westminster Abbey. In attendance were the prime minister and the opposition leader, among others. The notion that the NHS is the closest thing the United Kingdom has to a state religion has never been truer.
However, behind the pomp and pageantry, the NHS is a god that has failed. The reality is that the NHS should be one of the United Kingdom’s biggest shames, as it constantly lets down both patients and staff while placing a substantial burden on the taxpayer.
The number of people waiting for treatment in England has reached unprecedented levels, with a backlog of 7.4 million—about one in eight of the population. Alarmingly, over 371,000 people have been waiting for over a year to receive treatment. The UK has significantly fewer hospital beds, doctors, nurses, CT scanners, and MRI units than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average. In addition, the UK has the second-highest rate of treatable deaths in Western Europe. How can anyone believe this system deserves to be eulogized?
Yet the NHS worshippers can’t admit that the system is failing as they hang on to the lie that the NHS is an example of socialism working. Instead, they turn to conspiracies, claiming the NHS is failing because the Tories are purposefully underfunding it to push privatization as a viable alternative. This is far from the truth: NHS funding is at record-high levels, above the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average.
The argument that the Tories are trying to privatize the NHS has been pushed by mainstream news outlets for over four decades, from the Times in 1980 to the Byline Times in 2023, who claim that this is all a move to transition to a US-style system.
Nevertheless, the truth remains that when compared to not only the United States but also the rest of Europe, the UK continues to exhibit a significant level of statism in its healthcare system. As Dr. Kristian Niemietz, head of political economy of the Institute of Economic Affairs, points out,
After more than four decades of moral panic about secret privatisation plans, the UK still has an unusually state-centred healthcare system. Even if we include general practitioners, dentists, pharmacists and optometrists, spending on non-NHS providers still only accounts for about a quarter of the NHS budget. Spending on private providers (i.e., companies such as Bupa) in the way most people probably understand it accounts for less than one-tenth of the budget, a figure that does not show a rising trend. Private hospitals only account for one in ten hospital beds in the UK, compared to three out of ten in Austria, four out of ten in France, six out of ten in Germany, seven out of ten in Belgium and ten out of ten in the Netherlands.
Yet despite the facts, NHS fanatics would rather blame the issue on privatization boogeymen than address the point that the socialized centralized system has little accountability, cannot efficiently allocate resources, and provides patients with very little choice or freedom.
The reason why these NHS fanatics are fine with ignoring the facts is because they see the NHS as more important than human life and prioritize their dogma over reality. We could see this during the pandemic, when “protecting our NHS” was prioritized and the whole country clapped outside their houses every Thursday during the lockdown.
Meanwhile, very little coverage is given to the fact that the lockdown effects killed more people than covid, especially due to delayed treatments from the accumulated backlog. Instead of considering that the NHS’s inability to deal with the healthcare needs of Britain is a flaw in the system, NHS fanatics turn a blind eye.
NHS supporters are putting their fingers in their ears and are causing unnecessary suffering and costing people their lives. What does it matter that healthcare is “free at the point of use” when many are denied care altogether due to the waiting lists? While patients are quick to thank the NHS whenever healthcare goes right, they don’t apply the same logic to its countless failures. Those who dogmatically defend the NHS should try explaining things to the elderly person waiting for a delayed ambulance or the cancer patient waiting for delayed treatment.
Is it worth having worse healthcare outcomes in comparison to more market-based European countries to protect “our” NHS? Are they protecting people needing care or are they protecting the myths of socialism? The case seems to be the latter.