Roger Taylor, a former Financial Times journalist who established a private company, now part-funded by the NHS, has a disdain for health activists and a commitment to privatisation. His book, written in a chatty, yet irritating style, sets out to identify what is wrong with the NHS and what can be done to change it. Alas, it is a Guardian books bestseller.
The need for a change in culture within the NHS was a main outcome of the Francis Inquiry into the series of disasters that took place at Mid Staffordshire Hospital. This is Taylor’s starting point. He ignores the fact that the problems at Mid Staffs were deeply affected by the drive towards privatisation.
Useful facts are embedded throughout, but surrounded by a bigoted analysis.
Taylor disdainfully describes an NHS Support Federation meeting that he attended, considering health activists to be a selfish group of NHS workers who only have their self-interests at heart. He describes those who expose the privatisation agenda as “conspiracy theorists”! Jacky Davis, an eminent consultant, BMA executive member and active in the Whittington health campaigns, is mocked appallingly.
Taylor thinks that with people living longer the system cannot afford to pay for everyone. Professor Allyson Pollock, a public health researcher and cited in Taylor’s book, disagrees. She writes that demographic arguments are invalid: “Facts do not support the alarmism spread by policy makers and government ministers.” New technologies improve health and are actually economically effective by allowing people to stay in work for longer.
Taylor labels Pollock and NHS campaign groups such as Keep Our NHS Public and the NHS Support Federation as “sustainability deniers”.
He repeatedly argues that there is a need for cuts because of the more general economic crisis. He cannot understand that the impetus behind “changing cultures” is ideological; that the government hides behind the cry of not enough money, while simultaneously decreasing taxes on the rich.
At Whittington Hospital, the closure of the A&E department was stopped in 2010 through massive local action that coincided with the general election. In 2013, Whittington is threatened again as the hospital’s board attempts to balance its books for its Foundation Trust application. Like Taylor, the hospital board use specious arguments to justify their massive cuts – such as hospital beds are old-fashioned so it’s better to treat patients at home. The Whittington community have yet again shown their disgust at these proposals. But this time the challenge to our health service is more acute – we have demonstrated, held a day of action across workplaces in the area, but are now linking up with all London hospitals. But we will need national action to win our NHS back.
Taylor’s analysis is flawed. To save our NHS we need a government that funds a nationalised health system. Does a Labour government that set up Foundation Trusts, PFI and privatised services within the NHS have the guts to do this?
God Bless the NHS is published by Faber and Faber, £9.99
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