Wednesday, February 20, 2002
The Final Taboo

As I type these words, BBC1 is devoting an entire evening of programming to the NHS consisting of interviews, phone-ins, telethons, quizzes, sketches, debates, bright lights, dancing girls and, later, we are promised a walk-on by Tony Blair (they've even provided the water)

I could make some rather snide remarks about one public sector body rallying to the defence of another public sector body and, whilst I am sorely tempted, I will leave the observation at that. It would also be inaccurate to refer to it as naked propoganda for there is no shortage of furrowed brows and wrung hands over the parlous state of the Health Service and what should be done about it

It is more interesting to ask why this is happening. Why this TV extravaganza devoted to 'our' NHS? Since its inception in 1948, the NHS has become the closest thing Britain has to a state religion (that, and the dear old Queen Mum). There can be no clearer manifestation of this than during the last election when national debate became stricken with a kind of political Tourettes Syndrome where not a sentence could be uttered without the phrase 'schoolz'n'hospitals' being blurted out. To even hint at discussion of any other issues was to lay oneself open to accusations of irrelevence or pottiness

Why this very public display of both breast-beating and cheerleading? Surely the NHS is not a matter for question or debate? Or is it?

In fact, there is every indication that growing public disenchantment with its sovietised health care system is fast becoming disillusion and even, in some quarters, resentment. Like Soviet grain-harvesting figures, government trumpeting about shorter waiting lists and more beds just ain't cutting it with a public who are watching too many of their elderly relatives expire on trolleys in corridors and too many of their babies being deformed or needlessly aborted

Is it possible that the government and the health bureaucrats are sensing this? Are they just a little worried that a lot of people are starting to form the view that the so-called 'public services' exist not to serve the public but the public sector? That nationalised industries care nothing for their consumers only their producers? Are we being 'softened up' for a major earthquake in British post-war policy? Or more fevered attempts to put a brave face on things in order to maintain the status quo?

My own feeling is that the Sacred Cow is not for slaughter just yet, but the nation is developing a taste for hamburgers


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