Has one man ruined socialised healthcare in the UK?

According to some supporters of the NHS, the funding cuts of Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, are to blame for its “financial meltdown” (and thus its increasingly poor quality of service in general). But is it true that if it wasn’t for the decisions made by this man then the NHS would be in the black and doing a significantly better job? In a word: no. The truth is that our system of socialised healthcare is destroying itself.

The NHS gets its funding from the government. The people in government who decide how much funding each hospital receives have no rational way of calculating and knowing what the demand is for healthcare and medical services in any given region. Why? Because there is essentially no functioning market in medical care in the UK.

Thus there are few profit and loss signals to convey what the actual demand is in region X for doctors, nurses, beds, types of treatment and drugs A, B and C. So it’s not at all surprising or perplexing that the government swings from over-funding the NHS to under-funding it; that it under-funds some NHS trusts whilst over-funding others; and that it under-funds some treatments and over-funds others.

Here’s an analogy. Imagine you’re on a firing range aiming at a moving target. Now imagine that you’re drunk off your ass. A State funded and controlled medical care system is like trying to hit this target whilst being intoxicated. The alcohol is preventing your brain and senses from functioning properly and so they can’t convey to you the knowledge of where the target is at any given moment.

Thus you find yourself constantly over-compensating to the left, right and up and down. And missing the target a lot more than the guy next to you who is sober. (He’s a free market). Moreover, it takes you much longer than him to adjust for your previous over-adjustments.

The other problem with having the provision of hospitals, doctors, nurses and drugs entirely at the mercy of one institution/provider (i.e. the state) is that the supply of them is in danger of collapsing or at least massively shrinking if the state itself is consistently overspending and is going bankrupt. Which the UK state most certainly is.

When the UK state’s debts come due, we can be certain that the current incumbents will do whatever is necessary to keep it operational. That will almost certainly involve massive and sudden withdrawal of funding from the NHS, which could mean hospitals across the nation swiftly closing wherever the private sector cannot step in and keep them running.

No one man (or group of men) is to blame for the NHS’s impending bankruptcy, and relatively poor and wildly varying quality. The culprit is a what, not a who. What is to blame is the foundational idea or belief that the NHS is built on. The belief that public sector workers pursuing goals set for them by their superiors can produce better and cheaper medical/healthcare than private actors pursuing profits can. A belief chiefly born of ignorance of the science of economics, or else based on flawed economic theory.

Many on the political Left and even some on the Right seem to think that if the coalition government hadn’t cut public spending over the last several years, then the NHS would be sailing along nicely. But what they don’t realise is that the choice is not between funding cuts and no funding cuts. It’s between relatively small and gradual cuts now, which NHS workers have some time to adapt to, or massive and very sudden funding cuts in the future. Which no one in the NHS will have any time to adapt to and that will likely take NHS workers and the public by surprise.

The truth is neither the political Left nor the political Right can save the NHS. Privatisation is inevitable because it will fall into the hands of the private sector once the state goes bankrupt and the government becomes preoccupied with scrambling for pennies to keep the electricity on. In the end, it will be the private sector that will save, not the NHS as we know it, but a private national medical and healthcare service.

All other things being equal, a privatised medical care system in the UK stands a good chance of being the best medical care service in the world, and indeed affordable to all. Which, no doubt, was the original vision and aim of those who played a part in founding the National Health Service. Their aim was laudible, but their chosen means, the state, was lacking.

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