The Dirty War On The NHS

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2nd December 2019

A Documentary Just In Time For The General Election

Unless you have been living under a rock, or you aren’t in the UK, you can’t have failed to notice that we go to the polling stations once more next week, the 12th December to be precise, to vote on our next leaders.

The choices are, well, they are never really great but this time round we really do have the scrapings of the barrel. Of the few things that the main two parties, Conservatives and Labour, do have in common, it is their rhetoric around both Brexit and the National Health Service.

It is this latter point that veteran journalist and filmmaker John Pilger (“Utopia”, “The War You Don’t See”) takes aim at with his documentary The Dirty War On The NHS.

In it, Pilger takes a hard swipe at the successive governments who are less-than-stealthily selling off the NHS to private firms to an unprecedented level in recent years. Some £15 billion, yes billion, in NHS contracts has been given to private firms in the last five years alone (The Guardian).

We then have the staggering amount of money paid to ‘management consultants’, over £600 million a year, which one report from Bristol University said: they aren’t improving the NHS, in fact they are making it worse.

You would think then, that any party standing for power would talk about bringing back the NHS to where it all started, to taking a good hard look at the spending and cut it. But no. Instead, all parties just promise more money. There’s a saying in projects, “don’t throw good money after bad”.

I know people who work in the NHS (it’s the biggest employer in the UK so it’s hard not to) and I’ve met many over the years. When you speak to them about the “state of the NHS”, they will all, without fail, say the same thing: it can work. In it’s existing setup, as it is now, it can work.

They also, without fail, talk about the staggering waste that takes place throughout the Health Service. From projects that are abandoned after millions have been spent, to private sector companies who charge massively over the odds for their services, looking at you BT for one.

Pilger however, takes a different tack, one that is currently doing the rounds in the press, that of the NHS being turned into an Americanised Health System.

Pilger visits the US and talks with many involved in their Health System, which all points to one thing; they run their healthcare like a business, for profit. It’s all about the profit. If they don’t have to give you that operation, regardless of what it says in your terms and conditions, they’ll do everything they can to get out of it.

Pilger talks with doctors and nurses and people from campaign groups here in the UK, who all present stark warnings of the risks involved in the NHS becoming, or moving further into, a “two-tier” system, with the free NHS being entry level.

There’s mention of the failed privatisation of Hinchingbrooke Hospital in 2012 which saw, for the first time ever, a hospital be placed in special measures and eventually returned to the NHS after just three years, of a supposed ten year contract.

As hard hitting and scary as The Dirty War On The NHS is, I don’t believe this is the documentary to make the people of the UK stand up and take note, in truth, I’m not sure anything would, unless maybe Ant & Dec did it.

Flippancy aside, The Dirty War On The NHS is a bit rough around the edges, the editing is clunky, the ‘talking heads’ nature of it can feel like you are in a lecture at times and, whilst I’m totally against the privatisation of the NHS, I have to believe that at least one, perhaps tiny, bit of good has been done by it, somewhere, once, maybe, but the documentary feels to one-sided to even look.

Veteran filmmaker John Pilger takes us through a history of threats to Britain's National Health Service

2nd December 2019

John Pilger

John Pilger

Running Time:
1h 46min

John Pilger

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