The BBC has published a highly misleading story about the NHS, which has been amplified by its peers across the mainstream media. The problem is, the story is fake. While BBC headlines and those of follow-ups elsewhere are placing the blame for an emerging scandal on the NHS, it is actually a private company that is responsible.
The fake news story
On 27 February, the BBC announced in its headline that the NHS misplaced half a million patient documents, stating that:
Some 500,000 documents containing medical information, including cancer test results, were mistakenly put in storage rather than being sent to the GP or filed in the patients’ records.
The problem is, it wasn’t the NHS which lost the data. It was a private company.
NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS) was created by New Labour in 2005, as part of a strategy to save the NHS £224m by 2015. But just as the cost-cutting plans to outsource NHS cleaning services led to higher rates of deadly MRSA, the outsourcing of operations to NHS SBS has now created its own crisis.
The loss of patient data is serious and urgent. People could have been mis-prescribed medications, or missed critical appointments. Both of which could have placed them in harm’s way. The Guardian and the BBC place NHS SBS way down their articles, by which time most people would assume that the so-called bloated bureaucracy of the NHS was responsible, and be ripe for conversations about using the ‘efficiency’ of the private sector to whip it into shape.
The BBC’s second strike at the NHS in a week
This is the second time within a week that the BBC has directly or indirectly promoted privatising the NHS. On the 21 February edition of Newsnight, Dr Karol Sikora called the NHS the “last bastion of communism”, and argued for its privatisation. The programme described Sikora as a cancer specialist, failing to mention that he has personal financial interests in privatising healthcare.
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) February 22, 2017
Sikora is the Medical Director of private health firm Proton Partners Ltd, based in the tax haven of the Bahamas. He took part in a series of anti-NHS attack ads for the US Republican Party aimed at killing off President Obama’s healthcare plans. The ads claimed that NHS rationing boards routinely deny life-saving care to vulnerable British patients. None of this was mentioned on Newsnight.
Sikora’s view, and his right to share it, is entirely legitimate. And yes, BBC Newsnight is right to share differing views. But what is critical is that we know the background of the person airing those views. In Sikora’s case, he was effectively granted a platform to lobby for his personal financial interests.
The real NHS crisis
All of this detracts from the real crisis facing the NHS, and everyone dependent upon it.
The government is deliberately underfunding the service, providing it with less money than it requires. Now we are seeing the consequences, which were entirely foreseeable anyway.
Responding to the government’s 10-year budget forecast in 2015, the King’s Fund warned:
The ten years up to 2020/21 are likely to see the largest sustained fall in NHS spending as a share of GDP in any period since 1951.
As a result the NHS is struggling to meet its obligations to patients.
What makes this all the more unnecessary is that the funds the NHS requires are entirely affordable. In 2014, the Commonwealth Fund still judged the NHS the best healthcare system in the world, and the most cost effective too.
The secret to a decent NHS
Stories like this allow politicians and the media to scapegoat patients, staff, and the concept of the NHS itself, rather than take responsibility for a crisis of their own making. The UK has a GDP (amount of wealth we produce each year) of over £2tn a year. The NHS costs us just £116bn. UK citizens pay less money, for better care, than almost any other healthcare system in the world.
Privatisation fans argue that we can’t afford to keep the NHS. The truth is, we can’t afford not to.
– Join the It’s Our NHS demonstration on 4 March.
– Write a complaint to the BBC about this story.
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