Phil Taylor is a Conservative activist in Ealing.
I take an active interest in the NHS and the politics around it. Partly this is because like most of us my family and I are frequent users of the service and partly because I am fascinated by its place in our national life.
Although most of my friends and acquaintances would consider me to be impeccably right of centre in matters of economics, I have always been very wary of the market in the health sector. It has always seemed to me that too free a market in health can only end up by directing health resources disproportionately to those with the biggest spending power, as opposed to those with the most need or who stand to benefit most for longest.
I was taken ill in Worthing over the weekend and had to present myself to Worthing Hospital A&E. I walked into a calm and efficiently run department and left again two hours later fully restored, having been treated very well. The longest element of waiting was the 40-odd minutes for my blood results to come back so the doctors could be confident to discharge me.
The Care Quality Commission rates Worthing as Outstanding and my own perception was that it has got that right.
Perception is a malleable thing and I suspect that a lot of effort is expended by many opposition politicians (even some Tory ones), journalists, and medical professionals to drive a perception of the NHS in crisis, an underfunded and failing NHS which a Tory government has a vested interest in bringing down.
One of the voices in this chorus is a project called NHS Million (@NHSMillion). It was founded by Joe Blunden the NHS marketing bloke behind the Christmas 2015 NHS Choir number one charting single “A Bridge Over You”.
The NHS Million Twitter feed is a mixture of positive stories about the NHS, personal tweets from those with similarly positive stories, official public health messages and, unfortunately, a lot of heavily slanted political statements and carefully curated statistics – curated of course to tell a story of cuts and underfunding. Seemingly as an act of penance, I follow @NHSMillion.
This morning they retweeted a graphic produced by the NHS bureaucracy which details the February results from the NHS’s Friends and Family programme.
— NHS Million (@NHSMillion) April 10, 2017
This is essentially a customer satisfaction survey of NHS users which asks the key satisfaction question – would you recommend us to your friends and family? I helped my Dad to fill in one of these questionnaires only a couple of weeks ago.
The results are really quite stunning, and belie the NHS doom-and-gloom narrative. Inpatient and Day Cases, Maternity, Community Health, and Dental are recommended by 96 or 97 per cent of users, with only one per cent refusing a recommdendation. Meanwhile A&E, Ambulance, Mental Health and GPs score comparatively poorly but still come up with scores of 87-89 per cent.
Essentially, in February the NHS asked 1.1 million users would they recommend the service to friends and family and 1 million of them said yes.
In spite of a long-running and hard-fought campaign to blacken the Government’s record on NHS funding during the course of almost seven years of austerity, it seems that users’ actual experience of the service is very positive- and these figures are from February, the tail end of an apparently awful winter crisis.
,So if you wonder why opposition campaigning on this issue is not cutting through, the answer probably has something to do with the NHS and its staff working effectively in straightened times to deliver a great service most of the time. So thanks to them!
I am grateful to NHS Million for bringing this data to my attention. It was published on Friday and I haven’t seen it covered in the media all weekend or this morning, so I hope NHS Million are grateful to me for doing my bit to publicise it.