We hear it time and time again. Repeated almost ad nauseum.
"Save Our NHS"
"It's Our NHS"
"Protect Our NHS"
All this, in the ultimate marrying of popular culture and political sloganising results in a bunch of NHS employees forming a choir (helped by the chap off the BBC), releasing a sinlge and getting the Christmas Number One. Helped along the way by Justin Bieber and every second tearful person on social media.
On Christmas Day, five minutes before the Queen’s speech, a video displaying the best of our NHS was played on BBC1’s Top of the Pops. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, ran the messages on the screen as scenes of the NHS in action played out. It was a poignant moment for all who were involved in running the campaign - our song had got to No 1.
I'm really pleased for the people who were involved in this 'campaign'. It's always fantastic to see a project succeed, a message crack through the shell of public resistance, make a difference. But it got me thinking about 'Our NHS' and whether it sends out the right message. For sure we can show thousands of examples of how the brilliance of doctors, nurses and other medical folk, the smiling faces of families as their loved one pulls through, of mums delighted as their child's eyes open again, and of seemingly miraculous applications of medical technology to saves lives.
But is this really what "Our NHS" is about? Surely those same live saving, uplifting scenes are commonplace in every hospital everywhere? Aren't medical miracles performed by doctors and nurses in France, in Germany, in Spain - even in India? Places where "Our NHS" doesn't exist? And all these places - all these systems - are less than perfect, filled with error and mistake, lacking in resources and subject to failure? Just like the NHS.
The word 'our' implies possession - collective possession for sure but still possession. I wonder whether I - as a mere customer - can truly call the NHS mine. I do not control or influence its actions or activities beyond that moment when I put a cross in a box on a ballot paper every five years. I have no choice - there is only one NHS, that's it, like it or lump it. Decisions about when it's open or closed, about where it's located, about what services are available - these decisions are political decisions made (in theory if not in fact or reality) by those MPs we elect. We no more possess the NHS than possess the police force or the army. It is a huge, unaccountable bureaucracy directed by ministers and the officials they (sort of) employ. It really isn't ours yet the lie that this is the case is central to sustaining the NHS as Britain's sacred organisation.
Instead of talking about 'our' NHS, those doctors, nurses and so forth should be speaking of 'your' NHS. Where 'your' means the patient, the customers, the 'service user', the ordinary member of the public. If the NHS is to mean what these people claim it means then that is where the ownership should lie. But it doesn't and we are conned into believing that 'Our NHS' somehow means something - our heartstrings are tugged, the emotional buttons are pressed and, lo, the interests of those who really control this organisational behemoth are duly served. All those people who, sparkly-eyed, extol the virtues of 'Our NHS' are patsies for the nearly millionaire consultants, the trust bosses with their jaguars and barn conversions, and the 'system leaders' whose every act is to resist any change to an organisation that, for all the efforts of front line staff, fails far too many people.
It's 'Their NHS' and we shouldn't forget it. The 'Our NHS' campaigns do not serve our interests.