Don’t trust the news on the NHS

The media side-lines, belittles and, often, entirely ignores the real reasons behind the healthcare crisis


For ample evidence that the telly news remains the principal truth-distorting organ of our hell-in-a-hand-cart neoliberal dystopia, look no further than how it covers the NHS.

The health service is facing the biggest crisis in its history. A&E waiting times are the longest in 13 years. Cancer operations are being cancelled through lack of beds. More than 20 NHS Trusts have declared they can’t cope with overwhelming patient numbers. The social care system is on the brink. Mental health provision was already pretty dire. Now, for thousands of patients, it’s virtually non-existent.

The explanation you hear on the news exactly echoes the litany of distractions and excuses issued by the government. It’s down to fat people, old people, bed-blockers, foreign health tourists, and the worried well. In other words, just about everyone except the real culprits. Continue reading “Don’t trust the news on the NHS”


Observations on The People’s Strictly (featuring Michael Sheen)

people strictly

To briefly segue into the kind of crushing triviality we spend most of the time having a go at other people about indulging in, the telly was on when The People’s Strictly screened last night.

The show takes the BBC’s phenomenally popular Strictly Come Dancing format and radically does away with the celebrity contestants, replacing them with real people who’ve done nice, altruistic things. It’s part of this year’s Red Nose Day campaign, which seeks to raise money for anti-poverty charity Comic Relief.

To get the bunker-busting cynicism out of the way – charity shouldn’t have to exist. To some extent, celeb-festooned fundraising drives like these just act a sort of moral fig-leaf for tax-dodging multimillionaires, helping sticking-plaster problems that, in an egalitarian, millionaire-less society, wouldn’t exist at all. The old Clement Attlee quote springs to mind – “charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim”.

You can parachute Darcey Bussell into sub-Saharan Africa to make her empathy face at impoverished mothers whose children have died as much as you like. Things like that happen thousands of times every day – and without a social turnaround more radical than anything any celebrity Bake Off entrant could stomach, they’ll keep happening again and again and again, even if they’re still doing Red Nose Days in the year 3000.

BUT. It’s still supremely nice to see a programme celebrating selfless, compassionate, ordinary people rather than sociopath businessmen, vain, borderline-rapist footballers, vacant living clotheshorses and overpaid Top 40 warblers – people who dedicate their lives to quietly helping others rather than making millions doing nothing useful. Basically, it’s very pleasing – and so rare these days – to see good things happening to good people, on TV, for everyone to see.

AND. As crotchety far-leftists go, at least, we’re pro-charity. In a very bad world where that celeb-spooking social overhaul is a very long way off, a lot of charities work tirelessly and heroically to help the most vulnerable people on the planet, keeping literally millions alive. We’ve got very little time for the idea that Red Cross aid workers supplying emergency food supplies to famine victims are propping up the status quo – as if leaving them be would somehow provoke a revolution. Starving people don’t do politics – they’re too busy dying.

Incidentally, having just attacked celebrity Bake Off contestants, this one was all over social media this week after giving a righteously angry speech. Welsh actor Michael Sheen was taking part in a St David’s Day event in Tredegar, held to celebrate the legacy of NHS founder Aneurin Bevan, and highlight Coalition attempts to sell off increasingly large chunks of the health service.

Yes, he’s an LA-based probably-millionaire actor who’ll now jet off back to Hollywood and live a cushy elite lifestyle, but how often do you see that level of passion nowadays?

The NHS in ‘The Apprentice’ Society

Sugar and friends
Sugar and friends

Caring is out. Ruthlessness is in. That’s neoliberal morality.

Recently I had cause to partake of the National Health Service – or, more specifically, I had to accompany someone to an appointment at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, which at least involved riding an NHS-provided bus, sitting in a nice warm NHS waiting room and watching repeats of Grand Designs on an NHS TV.

I’ve been fortunate enough not to need the health service much. Yet. I still think it’s the greatest political achievement in the history of British statecraft. Given that national politics has been monopolised by nest-feathering plutocrats since time immemorial, it admittedly hasn’t got much competition for the title.

As the kind of lentil-munching ultra-leftist the Daily Mail presumes uses the Union Jack to mop the floor, I’m constitutionally obliged to hate dumb, tub-thumping patriotism in all its forms. But if there is something about ‘being British’ that’s genuinely worth being proud of – rather than a piss-poor football team, a plasticated Barbie and Ken monarchy, and a millions-enslaving, famine-inducing, continents-sundering imperial past – it’s the fact that our society commits to providing high-quality healthcare free at the point of use to anyone who needs it.

The NHS was born out of that dismayingly brief period, more of an blip when you look back on it, when top-drawer politics wasn’t entirely dominated by said nest-feathering plutocrats. “No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means”, proclaimed Nye Bevan, post-war Health Minister, lovely Welsh socialist and exemplary human being.

In the decades since, national politics has slowly but steadily reverted to business as usual. Now we’ve reached a critical mass of high-functioning sociopaths in positions of power, the NHS, like everything else left over from that bountiful five minutes of post-war welfarism, is under relentless attack. Continue reading “The NHS in ‘The Apprentice’ Society”