Monday, 24 June 2013

Is Relentless Media Attack on NHS Justified?

The UK's National Health Service has been under a blistering media attack. First, Charles Moore in the Telegraph describes the NHS as the “worst in the Western world” (1). According to him, “the NHS cannot look at the whole patient and meet his/her medical needs”. On Twitter, his editor Tony Gallagher describes the article as “really good”, and he is praised by Douglas Carswell MP. Next, in The Independent on Sunday, Ian Birrill describes the NHS as “a toxic institution”, one where “myopic worship has fostered a culture of complacency that kills patients” (2). Again he has been praised on Twitter by Jane Merrick (political editor of the IoS), Charlotte Leslie MP (MP for BristolNW) and Lord Ashcroft.

What is going on? It would appear that at least two of the above have had bad personal experiences of the NHS with care of relatives or themselves. Could that justify such vitriol in the national press?

Now might be a good time to clear up a few things. Firstly, the NHS is not the CQC (Care Quality Commission). We need a powerful regulator of hospitals in both public and private sectors, and the CQC has failed us in that. But do not tar the NHS with the same brush. Secondly, there are pockets of excellence within the NHS just as there are pockets of abject failure. To use examples of failure as a rod with which to strike all NHS staff demoralises them and fails to recognise their vital role in society.

The NHS is the backbone of healthcare in the UK. It is who we turn to when we are really sick. It doesn’t matter how sick you are, the NHS takes you in and does its best to fix you.  It also trains all our doctors and nurses. Yes, even those who now work in the private sector. Of course, the NHS is not perfect. But it does its utmost to deliver healthcare as a basic human right. It certainly is not complacent.

Funding cuts, staff shortages and increasing patient expectations are putting a strain on the NHS. See how our funding compares to other systems:

Is it the worst healthcare system in the world as Charles Moore and Ian Birrill would have us believe? Three years ago patient satisfaction with the NHS was the highest it had ever been. Research clearly demonstrates that the NHS provides the most cost efficient, high quality healthcare when compared to all other healthcare systems in the developed world (3). A report by The Commonwealth Fund (4) puts the UK in the top two for safe care, effective care, efficiency and equity (see chart).
We scored poorly on patient centred care (communication, continuity, feedback and patient preferences), and that may have been the price we paid for delivering the most cost-effective universal healthcare system in the world. For most of us in the NHS, this shines a light on where we must focus our efforts next. No complacency there.

How do we persuade the media to stop this unjustified attack on the NHS as a whole? What are their motives?

Please participate in the Twitter debate using #stopNHSattack.


3. Comparing the USA, UK and 17 Western countries’ efficiency and effectiveness in reducing mortality (C Pritchard, M Wallace), J R Soc Med Sh Rep 2011

4. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: How the Performance of the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally (K Davis, C Schoen, K Stremikis), 2010 Update