The NHS is being suffocated by cynical politicking

But let’s never forget that it represents the best of British idealism and energy



Read all about it! Chronic understaffing is putting lives at risk in the NHS. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) believes there should be one nurse per eight patients, but we have a shortage of 20,000 nurses. And nowadays, with anti-migrant feelings so high, importing nurses is, well, politically tricky.

Staff cuts are being imposed but 44 per cent of hospital trusts face the worst financial outlook for a decade. Around 800,000 people turned up at A&E departments last year, some because they could not get GP appointments.

Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs, warns that her sector is “teetering on the brink of collapse”.

Bed shortages are creating untold humiliation and desolation. The King’s Fund, a politically neutral health think-tank, is persuaded that by 2015-2016, money could run out in the NHS. Whistleblowers are still not heard, and if they are, could face punishment for speaking out. New research has found demoralisation among staff. One in four of NHS staff questioned say they have been bullied or harassed.

Infection risks are still high in clinics and hospitals. Maternity wards are under severe pressure. Early cancer diagnoses vary dramatically between areas, which means different outcomes too, obviously.

A survey by the Royal College of GPs found that the majority of practitioners fear they might fail to spot life-threatening conditions because of their impossible workloads. All this has been gleaned from newspapers over the last week or so. Enough to make us all sick.

But two questions need to be considered before the middle classes give up and turn to private health insurance: Is this deluge of bad news part of an ideological war between the centre-left and centre-right? Do politicians have a vested interest in making people think the NHS is in terminal decline? The answer is yes to both questions. The service is being suffocated by lack of adequate funding, poor management and endless restructuring – but most of all by cynical politicking. Expect to hear more rows this week as the Tories and Labour accuse each other of failing to stop the decline. 

For the right, the NHS, now under Jeremy Hunt, faithful friend of business, is a statist monopoly, Soviet-style, which must be broken up and sold off.  The right calls this “progressive marketisation” (See, for example, Sean Worth on the website of  the right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange).

To talk down the NHS eases this process by persuading people that privatisation is the only way to secure healthcare for our population in the future. Critics of the NHS ask if a “monolithic system” is efficient and suitable for our times. Or they praise in order to condemn: “The NHS was founded as a noble experiment in compassion. The principle of care from cradle to grave, free at the point of delivery was as revolutionary as it was fair. But society has changed enormously since 1948.”

True, we aren’t recovering from a world war, and we are economically stronger than the creators of the service would ever have envisaged. But If the money could be found then for universal healthcare, our government should be more than able to meet the challenges of our ageing and growing population.

It just doesn’t have the mettle and commitment of post-war parliamentarians.  

The left, meanwhile, repeatedly uses the NHS as a club with which to beat the Tories. So much so that the club is now cracking and breaking. This week we will get more of Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham going on the offensive. Why don’t they ever defend the extraordinary achievements and resilience of the NHS, the staff and its purpose?

I know the opposition must criticise government policies. But they need to stay balanced, speak with integrity and defend what is easily defensible. A new play, This May Hurt a Bit, an Out of Joint production in the West End, does that with such feeling that audiences weep. They know there are truths in this dramatisation that are rarely told anywhere else these days.

The play is by the renowned director Max Stafford-Clarke and his wife, Stella Feehily. He had a stroke in 2006, and this is the story of how nurses and doctors helped him to recover movement, hope and will. It is a thank-you note, on stage. Danny Boyle’s homage to our NHS in his Olympic spectacular did the same. Nurses and doctors danced and sang, celebrating the best of British idealism and energy. I hope we never forget that. Many readers ask me if I ever feel patriotic. Yes. I did when maternity units kept alive my babies during difficult births, when hospital A&E departments saved my life (I am an asthmatic and nearly died three times), when doctors and nurses made my mother comfortable and content as she was dying, when doctors patiently tested my daughter over several months to diagnose a health problem. I feel patriotic every time I  go to the GP or hospital.

True, the waiting times are sometimes unbearably long. You don’t have your own GP any more. Some receptionists are rude, and nurses seem indifferent at times. But the service still looks after millions of patients. So whatever your gripes, contact your MPs and tell them how much you value it. Do it or all too soon we will be like the US, where good health is a privilege not a human right.

Princess Grace  biopic sparks  a royal rumpus

The 67th Cannes Film festival opens this Wednesday with Grace of Monaco.

Here’s hoping bad blood doesn’t spoil the red carpet. The film is a biopic about Princess Grace which seems to have offended its producer, Harvey Weinstein, US distributors and the royal brood of Monaco. 

The director, Olivier Dahan, is best known for La Vie en Rose, a beautiful film about Edith Piaf which won its star, Marion Cotillard, an Oscar. Nicole Kidman plays Princess Grace in the new film and Tim Roth her husband, Prince Rainier III. With such talent, what could possibly go wrong?

Well where to start? Arash Amel’s screenplay, hinting at trouble in the Rainier marriage, was originally tossed onto the Hollywood Black List in 2011. This is an annual roll of good scripts which remain unproduced. It was bought by a French company. Next, Weinstein decided Dahan’s film needed changes before being sold into the US market. Dahan was livid. Seems they’re still locking horns.

Grace’s children have issued damning statements including that the film is “totally fictional” and it is reported they will not attend screenings.    

From what we know, the film shatters the fairytale illusion of princesses living happy ever afte. It shows how princes and states own and brand these wives.

Grace died in a car crash, so did Princess Diana. The last film on Diana also caused upset because it portrayed her as a lonely woman and the Windsors as cruel. We have freedom of expression, of course. But it seems some secrets – and the status quo – must be kept.

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