MarkSteel: Sign up now and you could win a heart bypass!

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The Independent Online

At last this bill has been passed, to enable our Health Service, the envy of the world, to become more like the American system, universally derided as a chaotic disaster. Now they can introduce bills to make our ferry service more like the one in Italy, and our record on child abuse more like the Vatican's. It takes inventive thinking to hear that in the US, drugs companies spend twice as much on advertising as they do on research, and say, "That's MARVELLOUS, why can't WE do that?" Because instead of expensive anaesthetics and medicines, which no one can be sure make a difference, there's nothing like a cheery advert with a smiley doctor to ease away your leukaemia and get you running about.

One of the strange facts to emerge is that nearly all the medical side of the NHS has opposed it, but those who stand to make money out of it have supported it. Isn't it strange, these statistical quirks that no one can explain? If you were cynical you might suggest that private companies sometimes show more concern for profits than taking pride in their service. But I'm sure at AGMs of health companies, the CEO announces, "This has been a marvellous year. We didn't make a penny so there are no dividends, but you should have seen the looks on people's faces once we'd removed their gallstones – that was a dividend in itself."

There's no alternative, apparently, because, as with everything else, "it's the only way to attract investment". The argument rests on the premise that society can't provide adequate health care without a profit motive. In this case first-aid courses should be amended, so the instructor says, "What's the first thing you do if a child is bleeding profusely? No, before the tourniquet, ask them how much they're willing to cough up. If you get a decent offer, stop the bleeding, give them some fruit and let them watch your telly for another three quid. Otherwise you're being a fool to yourself to bother."

So private companies are now free to bring in fresh ideas to raise finance. People with weak hearts can be offered deals such as 20 pumps on the chest and two jolts of a defibrillator per month on a year's contract, PLUS a monthly draw to win a bypass. Tourette's sufferers can be sponsored, so instead of being cured they'll receive £3 a day for shouting "DFS sofas" at random moments. And when a documentary exposes a ward in which old people were left for eight hours face down in a bowl of soup the boss can explain, "We are deeply ashamed at this dreadful waste of soup." No wonder ministers banged their fists on the table as the bill was passed. They can't believe they're getting away with this stuff.

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