Versa | The NHS is still the national religion, and even ‘free speech activists’ can’t talk about it

A week or so ago in Oxford, there was lots of self-congratulatory hand-wringing, from both sides of the Christ Church Abortion Debate furore. Those who got it cancelled were feeling pretty happy about denying two men the chance to debate abortion, and those on the other side got to feel pretty smug about their moral superiority in their stalwart defence of freedom of speech. Good on them.

the NHS: no debate allowed

I’d wager, though, that many of those who were so pleased with their own commitment of freedom of speech would instantaneously balk at any suggestion of even touching that most sacred of all UK institutions, the NHS. Whenever I mention it to anyone, I’m often met with a similar reaction to that with which the Christ Church abortion debate met (and which caused its eventual cancellation): outrage, shock, and incredulity than anyone could possibly even contemplate such a notion. And any change made to the NHS tends to be greeted within the realms of Twitter by a rousing chorus of ‘Tory Scum!’, some people congratulating themselves for successfully having a go at the Tories, and then everything carrying on pretty much as it was before.

Despite this, there seems to be some sort of paradoxical, never-ending stream of complaints about the NHS: GP opening hours, the postcode lottery, waiting times in A&E. Admittedly, this is the nature of people, but still, in the same way that I don’t understand how those who shut down the Christ Church abortion debate expect to ever change anyone’s opinion if they stick their fingers in their ears and shout down anyone whose opinion differs from theirs, I don’t understand how people ever expect the NHS to improve if any debate on the matter is almost instantly rebuked with an almost religious fervour.

So let’s do it: let’s actually try to talk about the NHS for once. And let’s do it away from the FUD that has hindered the debate up until now: the suggestion that healthcare is somehow a binary between the British system and the American system, or the idea that privatisation means definitively that we will all start paying for every single bit of healthcare. Or that there is only one way to pay for healthcare.

Is it not inherently better for any agency, public or private, to have to prove not merely their competency, but that they can do a better job of it than anyone else can in an area as important as healthcare? And if I choose to take part in potentially dangerous activities like rock climbing, and fall and break my leg, why should other people have to pay for my mistake? But it’s not just the adventurers: a recent survey taken of Oxford students who visited A&E over the last year indicated that 36% of these incidents were alcohol-related, and a further 27% were sport-related. That’s over 50% of student admissions to A&E that are caused by personal choices – could, and should, that money and time not be better spent elsewhere, on other people?

I know that when I play football, I run the risk of getting injured. It’s just a part of the sport. So if I break my ankle in a game, then that’s my fault, and I should have to take the proverbial hit on it. I know that when I drink, I’m more liable to accidents. If one does happen, it could well be my fault. Why should others pay for a risk that I have knowingly taken? Either I should have insurance, or if not, why could I not pay for my treatment in some other way? Much the same way as I’ll pay for my university fees, perhaps? Would paying x% over £y/year in order to cover the costs not ensure that the poorest are protected, whilst still placing on people some degree of personal responsibility?

Now admittedly, none of these suggested changes would (directly, at least) solve any of the aforementioned gripes that people have with the NHS. Maybe it would cut costs or increase its budget so that money could be better spent elsewhere. Maybe it would encourage more responsible behaviour and thus fewer patients. But that’s not the point. The point is quitting the defensiveness and the shouting, and actually having a proper debate about this.

Tags: abortion — christ church — debate — free speech — NHS — Oxford