Have you seen or heard of a TV programme called The Walking Dead? Premised on the idea that you could fall asleep and wake up to find that most of humanity had turned into slow-moving and wholly uncommunicative flesh-eating zombies, it is very popular among young people and to my old eyes quite hard to watch.
While I don’t ever expect to find myself waking up to a world full of flesh-eating zombies, I did feel I came close last week on hearing that TV presenter and man experiencing the longest and dullest puberty in history Jeremy Clarkson had been suspended from talking about cars on the television pending an investigation into him being rude or violent.
Within a couple of days half a million people had signed a petition to reinstate the man, without knowing what he had done. Essentially, people had decided his suspension was an outrage regardless of his crimes.
We could find out he had eaten his cleaner and set fire to some old people, but no matter - half a million people wanted him back.
“These days it is easy to sign a petition”
These days it is easy to sign a petition. You just go online and express yourself. There are lots of petitions; everything from ‘Bring back 1955’ to ‘Ban open-toed sandals’. And, of course, ‘Stop the privatisation of the NHS’. About 500,000 people wanted Clarkson on TV; 18,000 signed up to stop the NHS being privatised.
Now if I worked for a large political party as a campaigner, I would be quite interested in the wholesale disinterest in the NHS. I think, in fact, I could persuade myself that it almost constituted a mandate to do as I pleased. But I would keep quiet about it.
“About 500,000 people wanted Clarkson on TV; 18,000 signed up to stop the NHS being privatised”
On the other hand, in these post-austerity, pre-election days isn’t it wonderful to see the NHS being offered some focused political attention? We hear, for example, that MPs believe there should be more focused palliative care training.
And then there’s Nick Clegg - remember him? He’s been deputy prime minister for five years and you may remember he promised to do away with tuition fees if he was ever in government, yeah him; anyway, he promises this time there will definitely - no doubt, you can rely on him, stop sniggering at the back - be investming in child and adolescent mental health. Foot spas for everyone as well probably.
And HCAs? You want to train as a nurse? That will be easier too.
“…because we work on the principle that if we keep moving the goalposts we might score fewer own goals”
And nurse education? That’s going to change again too. Not because we know what we’re doing you understand, but because we work on the principle that if we keep moving the goalposts we might score fewer own goals. So, lots of things to look forward to there: training, investment, words, education, palliative care, other words.
Now the obvious point to make is that identifying training needs is easy, particularly following the levels of disinvestment you have tolerated this last five years. Committing to funding and support is a whole other thing.
“What worries me is what sort of health service is going to be the backdrop to these passing slices of political interest?”
But that obvious point, in this instance, is not what worries me - what worries me is what sort of health service is going to be the backdrop to these passing slices of political interest? Because as things stand, it will not be a National Health Service. Rather it will be a collection of profit-generating business opportunities.
We are selling the nation’s greatest institution without proper debate, without any mandate and it seems without the energy to defend it anymore. It was a war of attrition I think, and it appears that we have lost.
Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Stranger than Kindness. Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe