We'll All Be Dying to Save the NHS

Article excerpt

Byline: WILL SELF

APPARENTLY, for every four ministerial opponents of Alan Milburn's proposed revamping of the NHS there are as many different interpretations. I have no idea whether the opting-out of individual hospitals may, in and of itself, be the death knell of free, on-demand medical treatment, but what is certain is that this latest piece of tinkering will, inevitably, bring with it yet more costly bureaucracy and organisational discombobulation.

Sooner or later we're going to find ourselves with a de facto two-tier service, and then it is only a matter of time before the bottom half falls away to become the limbo of the lost, while the nosecone blasts off into the heavenly orbit of the London Clinic and the Cromwell Hospital.

But it is my view that underlying the crisis in the NHS - which has been with me from the cradle and is likely to see me in my grave - is not a political but a philosophical problem. As medical technology improves and practitioners become the very technocrats of the fleshly, so it becomes possible - given the funds - to keep sicker people alive for longer.

As a society we have a hefty appetite for that pill for every ill; if there's a choice between eschewing or chewing the junk food, most us opt for the latter. Modern urban living with its rush, bustle and mobile phone gabble encourages us to be diseased rather than easy going.

There is an enlightening statistic about healthcare in this country.

Apparently, 90 per cent of the resources expended on the medical treatment of the average Briton are spent during the last six weeks of his or her life. …