Why the failure to hit A&E targets worries me for very a different reason.

You probably couldn’t have missed the headlines this week about how our A&E departments have failed to hit waiting time targets. It is being reported that only 92.6% of people were seen within four hours, failing to meet the target of 95%. It is also being reported that the NHS is in a ‘critical condition’ as A&E waiting times are ‘set to be worst for a decade’, and hospitals all over the country are declaring major incidents, even drafting in the Red Cross to assist.

What really strikes me is the seriousness with which these stories are being reported, and this is why the headlines worry me for a completely different reason. I want to put a different spin on this headline for a moment – ‘Wow! 92.6% of all people who went to A&E with a health problems were seen within only 4 hours!’ Perhaps I’m a cynic, but of course our government-run media are not going to report matters regarding the NHS with anything like kind or positive words. How would this possibly benefit the current government’s agenda for privatisation? And never mind that the figures of ‘95%’ and ‘4 hours’ were arbitrarily plucked out of thin air by the labour government in 2004, but held up as the only standard there is.

I believe what is going on here is that every small fault or flaw in the health system is being pointed out and held up as evidence that the NHS no longer works. Each and every one of these points is benefitting the slow, occult shift from a public health system over to a private one. Some people may not realise that much of our health service already involves private health providers; for example, take today’s news story about Circle Holdings pulling out of Hitchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridge. This is not the first story of its kind – there have been similar reports of private companies pulling out of general practices because they did not prove to be profitable enough.

So, yes these headlines concern me, but not because our ‘NHS is failing’, but because it’s being smothered and smashed and will soon fail to exist. And all of this will be allowed to happen if the government continues to convince us all that it doesn’t work anymore. When recently discussing this with a colleague, he quoted Noam Chomsky – ‘That’s the standard technique of privatisation: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital’. Let’s not allow this to happen; let’s see the NHS for the positive and the good that it does – and the great potential that still remains, if only it was allowed to thrive.


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