By Hannah Newberry
There are many pressing issues that can be observed through newspapers, TV coverage or simple knowledge from walking around the city on a daily basis regarding our healthcare system as it stands. The rise of private hospitals owned by people who seek investment opportunities, the role that shareholders now play in public policy where healthcare is reluctant to adopt a route that won’t produce promising profit margins, and the lack of accessibility we now have in relation to immediate treatments through hospital waiting times and appointment availability. In my student house, the oldest trick in the book is to cry over the phone when we fail to convince the receptionist that our problem is worthy of ever being seen. It might not be morally virtuous, but it’s the product of the desperate culture we are accustomed to in relation to our healthcare. You can deny its tangibility all you want, but our inclination to stay in bed rather than see a GP unless we’re on death’s door sometimes professes something more than our general apathy towards self-care.
While Britain prides itself on being able to offer free healthcare and the NHS when many countries lack the resources or the democratic foundations to follow suit, it is not as true to life as we would hope. The increasing socioeconomic evolution that gradually treats healthcare as a commodity rather than a right is thriving every day. There has always been a relative degree of private resources by the NHS (some of you may have noticed the existence of ‘private’ wards in hospitals before), and this often explains why we are mostly unperturbed by the possibility that Britain’s NHS could become an entirely commercial enterprise. The reality could involve cost-cutting by placing further pressure on hospital staff, who will then risk losing their jobs as so much faith is lost in the public healthcare system that taxpayers edge towards being in favour of private companies, much like the US insurance system.
To fix this reality, we first need a colossal reform on the new trend of medical litigation and the scope of clinical negligence claims. Doctors are routinely shaken by their own alleged professional misconduct even when there is no evidence that compensation in tort will resolve these matters. The marketing of new technologies such as IVF is representative of how advanced we are in the sphere of healthcare, but it also comes at a cost when it engages with the greed of our western culture and places doctors on the front line. For example, the for-profit nature of IVF, a sought-after service, means that we often encourage people to spend their money through the promise of money-back guarantees, financial incentives and excessive compensation for any damage incurred. In order to reap profit in areas of healthcare that will never not have a demand, we allow costly litigation that demands funding from the victims and the third parties – never the people who are to blame for the unethical way in which we sell these advances to vulnerable people. This is likely to have a deterrent effect on people our age who wish to become doctors, ensuring that there are little to no staff willing to enter specialised fields that carry high negligence risks, or ensuring that students opt for safer career paths – therefore damaging the NHS’s need for staff further. When you consider the fact that we can make money from infertile people having to spend ‘vast sums in commercial clinics or foregoing the chance of ever having children’, we have to look at reforming the way we view the inevitable inadequacies of free healthcare.
And secondly, we need to take a serious look at what NHS privatisation would actually mean for us in the UK, aside from media scaremongering VS far-right indifference. A privatised healthcare system has been suggested to lead to treatments that aren’t always in our best interests if it is more cost-effective, and a huge rise in advertising for medicinal products. We have already depleted our funding for healthcare, and dangerous ideas that are proposed to encourage efficiency (such as GP Commissioning) are detrimental to our society as a whole when we could be proposing other budget cuts to less imperative services like gene-editing and scientifically unfounded animal testing. To describe healthcare as a commodity in a country that prides itself on the NHS is not problematic, but merely appreciative of the definition of a commodity. Our society assigns a market value to all the latest tests and treatments, and even if this payment doesn’t come directly out of our salaries, it is manifested in waiting times, the pressure for the higher quality of private services and the social pressures that drive us to make decisions we’re not necessarily invested in, such as the sympathy that exists for a husband when his wife is unable to conceive.
There is no reason why we should only fear the future of our healthcare system when it appears on BBC News after a long day of Uni. There will never be a workable and reliable healthcare service provider that serves the best interests of its patients and staff only until we eradicate the idea that illness is profitable and should be exploited as such. The ‘for-profit’ revolution is incredibly real and a product of ’emotional voting’ (as iterated weekly in the EU Referendum debates) and a false belief that total privatisation is impossible or too politically dangerous to pursue. When we look at the weekly humiliation that Twitter ignites around US politics and its indifference to healthcare concerns, we shouldn’t believe that there is nowhere to go but up for us just yet.