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In 2020, millions of Britons stood outside their houses at 8 p.m. on Thursday nights, prompted by television adverts, to applaud the NHS.

Here’s then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock on the first Thursday of the embarrassing two-minute applause sessions on March 26, 2020:

Two years later, on April 27, 2022, The Spectator‘s Tim Knox reported that public opinion of the nation’s best loved institution has fallen to a 25-year low (emphases mine):

While MPs compete to shout the loudest in their support of the UK’s health services (‘save our NHS!’), the British public has fallen out of love with it. More people are now dissatisfied with the NHS than are happy with it. This is true across all ages, income groups, sexes and voters of different political parties. Support for the NHS is now at the lowest level for a quarter of a century.

The public is right, the NHS is just not that good. Compare it, as I have done in a new report published today, with the health systems of 19 similarly well-off countries and it is hard to come to any other conclusion. UK life expectancy is down at 17 out of these 19 comparable nations. Our cancer survival rates are shockingly low. We are the worst for strokes and heart attacks. We are one from bottom for preventing treatable diseases. We are third from bottom for infant mortality. The only thing we top the charts on is helping diabetics avoid amputation. Sadly, despite the great efforts of NHS staff, our health system does not match the success rates of other nations: we come bottom of the league tables four times – more than any other country – and are in the bottom three for eight out of the 16 measures.

Tim Knox advocates for an insurance model. No, thanks. It is apparent that Knox has never lived under an insurance model. I have. Premiums and inefficiencies would only rise in the years to come.

Here’s a better idea for the NHS: root and branch reform.

The problem is that most NHS workers are unionised, so they can go on strike. Another is that they are trained to be part of an inefficient health delivery system, which would have been much better had it stuck to the basics as it did when it was founded, e.g. emergency care, broken limbs, heart problems and cancer treatment.

This tweet comes from a former NHS nurse who has since become a barrister. Her tweet from April 11, 2020, which disapproved of the applause during the pandemic, attracted many insightful replies:

The same day that Tim Knox’s article appeared — April 27, 2022 — The Spectator‘s Isabel Hardman wrote about the High Court ruling on what happened in care homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Before going into that, Hardman raises a good point about the NHS and why the new levy on National Insurance will not help care homes. No, it won’t initially. My understanding from parliamentary debates is that the first two years’ of proceeds from the levy will be going to the NHS instead:

The phrase ‘protect the NHS’ was a powerful one in the public health messaging in the pandemic. It was also a description of where the focus lay in government. The health service was the priority, not the care homes these patients went into. There are lots of reasons for this, but one is clearly a political calculation that the NHS matters to the public in a way care of the elderly does not. That is why successive governments have been able to shirk proper social care reform. That includes this government, by the way, as its levy does nothing to improve the quantity or quality of care …

It is debatable that the NHS itself was really protected throughout the pandemic.

So, our lockdowns were all for nought.

Last month’s High Court ruling implicated former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the erstwhile Public Health England, so it is rather useless in order for any action to be taken against either. Why did it take two years for this ruling to be made?

That said, it could come in handy for any public inquiry into how the UK Government managed the pandemic.

Hancock denies that he said that the Government was putting ‘a protective ring’ around care homes, but I watched or listened to every one of the coronavirus briefings as well as his statements in Parliament. He did use those very words, time and time again.

This is what Hardman had to say about the High Court case regarding care homes during the pandemic in 2020:

The High Court’s ruling today that the government broke the law on the discharge of patients to care homes in the early days of the pandemic further undermines the claim by the then Health Secretary Matt Hancock that ministers had thrown a ‘protective ring’ around the sector.

The case was brought by two relatives, Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris, of care home residents who died after testing positive for Covid. Their argument was that six policies in place at the start of the pandemic represented ‘one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures in the modern era‘. The fathers of Gardner and Harris were among the 20,000 people in care homes who died after testing positive between March and June 2020. The pair argued that one of the worst failures was the mass discharge of 25,000 patients from hospital to care homes without Covid testing or proper isolation arrangements in place, meaning the virus rampaged among vulnerable and frail populations. They also cited poor – and initially non-existent – advice on PPE which made it even harder to protect the residents of the homes.

The discharge policy is something politicians and NHS figures have been squabbling over for some time, despite Hancock’s ‘protective ring’ line. Was it conceived in Whitehall or in the NHS itself? The rationale behind it was that it would free up beds in hospitals ahead of the anticipated wave of Covid patients. But because some of those being discharged from hospital had Covid themselves, this led to a wave within care homes: a deadly one.

The UK was far from the only country that experienced problems in hospitals and care homes during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020. Even Swedish officials were sorry for what happened in their care homes at that time.

Something must be done, not only about the NHS but also care homes, the Cinderella of health care.

However, who in Government will take on the nation’s favourite institution? No one.

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