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The Not-So-Precious Truth About the ‘Precious’ NHS

When British Prime Minister Theresa May gave her traditional New Year's speech on December 31, one line -- actually, just one word -- jumped out at me. May spoke of the importance of “taking a balanced approach to government spending, so we get our debt falling but can also invest in the things that matter -- our schools, our police and our precious NHS.”

Yes, “precious.” She actually described the National Health Service as precious!

Now, one might easily forgive her for describing, say, Britain's finest doctors and nurses as -- oh, I don't know -- how about “treasured”? Or for using such language to celebrate modern medicine -- robot surgery, wonder drugs, cutting-edge diagnostic technology.

But no: Theresa May was talking about a government bureaucracy. It struck me as both ridiculous and scary -- a perfect example of the statist mentality at its most perverse.

I already knew that the Brits have been brainwashed for generations into thinking their NHS is some kind of miracle. (Recall, for example, the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics, which climaxed in a bizarre tribute to the NHS.) But May's use of the word “precious” was a new one to me.

Curious, I did a bit of Googling. I discovered that May is far from the first person to speak of the NHS in this way. In 2011, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham warned of “David Cameron's determination to turn our precious NHS into a U.S.-style commercial system.” A January 2015 column in The Sun was headlined: “Stop sticking the knife into our precious NHS.” Last March, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon urged Scotsmen to vote SNP if they wanted “a government that's committed to our precious NHS.”

There's a lot more where that came from. Plus plenty of references to “our beloved NHS.”

One is reminded of the closing sentence of 1984: “He loved Big Brother.”

It's sad enough to see this sort of thing in a Nordic social democracy. It's even sadder to see it in the home of Magna Carta, a country that, in 1940-41, stood alone in a life-or-death war against totalitarianism. Of course, this whole socialist mess started right after the war ended, with the Brits unceremoniously dumping the century's great hero of freedom, Winston Churchill, and installing in his place a Labour government that, bucking the advice of doctors, took control of the kingdom's health-care system.

Even at its most successful, a welfare state doesn't exist to give life meaning -- it's no more than a means to an end. But in socialist countries, the rhetoric of politicians and state-subsidized media inevitably transforms it into something resembling a religion. So it is with the NHS in Britain.

What makes this NHS-worship especially grotesque is that the NHS, far from being successful, is a world-class disaster.

Last July the BBC reported that the NHS was “increasingly” rationing such treatments as “hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery … as well as drugs for conditions such as arthritis.” In August, Jeremy Warner admitted in the Telegraph that despite vehement claims to the contrary, the NHS has always “covertly” rationed health care and that now, with “funding … stretched to breaking point,” it was doing so overtly -- cutting corners, canceling operations and doctor appointments, and extending already long waiting times even for urgent treatments.

In October came reports that patients' obesity and tobacco use were increasingly being used as excuses for denying them care. In November, a Cambridge University study concluded that 120,000 Brits had perished unnecessarily during the previous seven years as a result of NHS cuts. In January, the BBC admitted that patients were “dying in hospital corridors” owing to what doctors called “'intolerable' conditions.”

Earlier this month, a probe by The Mail showed that hospitals all over Britain -- including operating rooms and maternity wards -- were infested by cockroaches, maggots, insects, and rats. “Rats can carry salmonella and the deadly Weil’s disease,” noted The Mail, “while cockroaches can spread gastroenteritis and salmonella.” On February 10, CNN's website ran a piece asking the question: “After 70 years of universal health care, is the NHS at a crisis point?”

Finally, there's this. Recently, the NHS issued a public statement advising parents not to overburden its system by taking children with the cold or flu to hospital emergency rooms. One result of this directive was that 18-year-old Melissa Whiteley of Stoke-on-Trent, who had “flu-like symptoms,” ended up dying of sepsis, the flu, pneumonia, and a fungal infection because her parents didn't want to bother the NHS.

Apparently in reaction to Whiteley's death, the NHS changed its advice: on February 12, several news media in the U.K. reported that the NHS England was airing TV commercials instructing parents who think their children have “minor” ailments to take them to pharmacists. Pharmacists approved; doctors didn't. Dr. Ron Daniels, head of the U.K. Sepsis Trust, warned that parents are in no position to know whether a child's illness is serious or not -- and that “while pharmacists are highly trained, they are not medical trained.” Joyce Robins of Patient Concern concurred: “Parents aren’t doctors, and pharmacists aren’t doctors either.”

Government is, by definition, bad at running things. But if a country's government decides it's going to provide health care, and if the people want it to, have at it. Good luck. But in order to give publicly run health care even a chance to work, the government must ensure that the resources will be there. And in order to ensure that, it must take certain steps. For one thing, it must curtail immigration by people who will burden the welfare system. It must stop pouring cash down the foreign-aid rathole. And so on. The list of things that need to be done is pretty obvious.

But Britain hasn't done any of these things. In the future, accordingly, its welfare rolls are destined to swell -- and the NHS is destined to become increasingly overburdened. Queues will grow even longer; rationing will become more severe; British subjects will find themselves being denied care because of their advanced age, their excessive weight, their smoking or drinking habits -- or their lack of connections.

Yes, America's health-coverage system desperately needs an overhaul. But the NHS is no role model. On the contrary, its history is a cautionary tale -- and its prospects are nothing less than nightmarish. As even the Observer, that bulwark of socialism, put it last October in an editorial about the NHS: “Things are bad, but the depressing truth is, the worst could yet be to come.”