A call to the inhabitants of this green and pleasant land: ring the bells and bang the drums and sing the praises of Aneurin Bevan. People should have written poetry about him, put his photo on classroom walls, sold novelty hair pieces in his honour. Aneurin Bevan was responsible, in 1948, for the institution of this country’s National Health Service, thus adding himself to the rather short list of politicians who have accomplished tangible, long-lasting good for the country at large.
I’ve discovered that the National Health Service is like the UK’s bumbling and slightly inept granddad: we moan about it constantly between ourselves, but the moment someone else dares to take a swipe at it, we unite in our indignation. So it has been, of course, with the recent NHS-bashing indulged by our Republican friends across the pond, in response to Obama’s proposed healthcare reforms. Even the nice old vicar on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day got in on the act, spending his three-and-a-half minutes explaining why a health system catering for all regardless of personal circumstances was self-evidently the most Christian way to do things. It’s not like him to be so partisan, and I raised an eyebrow in my car even as I also let out a savage, un-Christian ‘Too right! Choke on that, Glenn Beck, you whinging mentalist!’
Because, of course, the arguments used by these detractors of the ‘evil’ NHS seemed, to the casual observer, ludicrous bordering on the downright nonsensical. I’ve always considered the US to be a country of mostly normal, rational, functional people, with the odd nutcase now and then, as in all countries. This anti-healthcare campaign has thrown all my assumptions into confusion, as though a large percentage of these normal, rational, functional people have followed the example of the whack-jobs at Fox News and had Insane-o-Wheats for breakfast. I can’t understand why so many people have become incandescent with rage about a system designed to help fund treatment for the millions of people who can’t pay for basic healthcare. Was the high point when Investor’s Business Daily told the world that the British-born Stephen Hawking would be dead if he were a Brit, because the NHS would consider his life to be ‘worthless’? Um, Mr Hawking speaks with that slightly Americanised computer voice because he has motor neurone disease, not because he’s actually an American computer. It’s called a Google search. Look it up. Maybe the most bizarre moment came when hundreds upon hundreds of people congregated outside town halls around the country, carrying homemade signs comparing Obama to Hitler. And here’s me thinking that Hitler was responsible for the mass-murder of at least 17 million people. Turns out he was also trying to make sure that 46 million people could be diagnosed with cancer without also having to worry about bankruptcy. Hasn’t he had some bad press over the years?
Watching these otherwise normal people, standing with their placards and slogans and their voluble horror at the possibility of having to help the less fortunate, I felt much as I feel when I see people putting their dogs in Halloween costumes: shiftily embarrassed, in genuine despair for the future of the species, and a little bit sick. I mean, these people sat at home and actually made signs to let everyone know that they don’t want universal healthcare, an ideological position we usually associate with the petty dictators of Third-World African countries. Weren’t they ashamed to say such a thing in public? Do all these reasonable-looking people come back from a day at the office, lock themselves in their rooms and spend the evening cackling and rocking on a pile of dollar bills? Who can explain this?
Today I had an appointment at the ENT clinic of our city hospital. The building was a little shabby and the clinic was running half an hour late, but my (probably badly paid) consultant was unfailingly kind, looking sympathetically uncomfortable as he sprayed me with anaesthetic and fed a rubber tube up my nose to a place it really shouldn’t have been allowed to go. Afterwards, my anaesthetised uvula flapping disconcertingly around the back of my throat, I was traumatised enough to award myself an Honorary Order of McDonalds, Deli Sandwich Class. But while I was concerned about drooling in public, I wasn’t at all worried about being able to afford the return appointment they booked for me in December. Because I’m lucky enough to live in a democracy, and so my healthcare is free. I’d much rather be part of Mr Bevan’s rambling, all-inclusive NHS than arguing with the receptionist of my insurance company’s private hospital: all shiny floors and stethoscopes and absolutely no soul.