Politics should be the art of making people’s lives better. Manifest wholesale change can only come through political action.
The UK innovated the NHS, the flagship institution of our welfare state. And until the 1980s it was the global ‘gold standard’ in healthcare. As a youth I remember no waiting lists, no delays in casualty, no next week appointments to see your GP. The advent of Thatcherism with its ‘internal market’ changed all this. Suddenly there was a price on health. We woke up to the reality that our hospitals were centres of waste and inefficiency.
Hospitals were being closed left right and centre to make way for all encompassing new centres of excellence. Amidst the chaos of reform, private medicine thrived like never before. Priority for consultants and practitioners became the potential to earn rather than to heal.
Thatcher’s cardinal mistake was to attempt to implement far reaching reforms whilst simultaneously reducing staff morale to rock bottom. Her consistent failure to give nurses decent pay rises meant the great British nurse was either going to the private sector or to better paid work pastures abroad. Thatcherism was in some respect the counter revolution to the ideology of collectivism that gave birth to the NHS.
Since the 1980s the NHS has spent countless billions on rebranding, reform and ever changing management strategies. Which ironically if invested in front line treatments would have spared millions from avoidable pain and suffering.
We have become digits on an NHS computer screen. Our status is no longer that of thinking, feeling human beings capable of pain and suffering.
The politics of compassion should begin with the NHS. And our society judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable members. Our career politicians, the technocrats of despair have let down our elderly, disabled and chronically unwell.
Some argue the NHS is a victim of its own success. Extremely advanced day care treatments, a wider scope of medicines and population pressures means the NHS simply does not have the capacity to cope with demand. But if we can find billions to fund unjust wars in Iraq and Afghanistan we should not be contemplating a £60 billion NHS black hole. Indeed so out of touch are our political classes from the priorities of the British people that they are committed to spending £50bn on HS2, to essentially cut certain train journeys by a few minutes rather than rescue the NHS.
Politics has to be underpinned by compassion. And compassion goes beyond all ideology, all allegiances, all vested and self interest. After all, what grander vision, what greater human value can we build the consensus of tomorrow’s society than compassion?