Question the NHS and face the backlash

Tom Bristow claims that The NHS enjoys quasi-religious status in this country. PHOTO: Dominic Lipins

Tom Bristow claims that The NHS enjoys quasi-religious status in this country. PHOTO: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire - Credit: PA

'I assume if any members of the EDP team are ever in need of medical attention then you won't call for an ambulance or use the NHS.'

So reads one of several comments and emails we get at the EDP when we run stories which point out failings in our health system.

The NHS enjoys quasi-religious status in this country. That reverence touched on piety last week with the NHS' 70th birthday celebrated with cathedral services across the country.

But as with any religion, those who do point out its failings can face a backlash.

So along with all the fantastic things about the NHS we should also remember this:

-Its leaders are very well paid public servants and must be held accountable for its failings

-It is repeatedly missing its targets and letting down patients

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-Locally, it is in crisis with our biggest hospital and mental health trust both in special measures. Our ambulance service, meanwhile, has been under fire for years.

The idea that the NHS should not be challenged does a huge disservice to patients.

Just some of the findings in the latest Care Quality Commission (CQC) report into the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital should provoke public anger – patients treated on trolleys, waiting time targets manipulated, and despite tens of millions more pounds of our money being given to it, it is getting worse.

But there was no anger. Its chairman and chief executive have remained in post. Either patients have heard it all before or the blame is put elsewhere – at Number 10, at the Department of Health, at demographics' door.

If Norfolk police was given a massive cash injection but its arrest rate dropped, we would be wondering what was going on at its Wymondham headquarters.

If our councils failed to collect our bins and sweep our streets, while raising our council tax, there would be protests outside town halls.

But with our reverential attitude to the NHS we let it go. Of course its staff do a fantastic job in very difficult circumstances, but we do not demand the best care, instead we are grateful for the care we are given.

No other country in the world has the NHS. That is often cited with pride. But there is another way of looking at it. Why haven't more countries adopted our model?

Could it be that countries similar to our own - Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands - have a better model of healthcare?

A study in The Lancet medical journal last year would suggest so. The UK's health system was ranked 30th in the world.

Whether you look globally, nationally or locally, the way the NHS is run leaves a huge amount of questions. Those at the top need to start answering them - and nobody should face criticism for asking them.

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