We in the medical profession have spilt a lot of ink and bile in our outrage over the government's half-baked plans to create a '7 day NHS'. We've been upset that a chronically overstretched work force is about to be stretched even further to satisfy a manifesto sound bite, and we've been upset by our final transition from professional worker to consumer commodity. But we've missed the bigger picture. We are just unwilling pawns in a bigger game.
I, and many of my colleagues, have made the assumption that the Conservatives are responding to the desire of the people in providing these seven day services and we have frequently argued that the NHS needs to be run according to need and not to want. However, the penny finally dropped for me when Jeremy Hunt made a characteristically unpopular statement earlier this week by accusing the British public of not working hard enough.
Hunt declared that we needed to work harder and longer, more akin to an Asian economy. This despite the fact that our workers already work some of the longest hours in Europe and that the British worker has managed to maintain the economy as the 5th or 6th largest in the world through a banking crisis even though our economy is heavily reliant on banking.
The Conservatives have drummed up discontent with the NHS by propagating a number of myths. They claim there is no access to General Practice outside of office hours even though there is already GP cover 24 hours a day, nationwide. They claim that consultants don't work weekends although it is clear that they do. And they insist that 11,000 people die each year because they are admitted to hospital at the weekend although this statistic has repeatedly been shown to be misleading. This statistic has been so mangled and manipulated that whatever kernel of truth there may be in it is entirely unrecognisable.
They ignore several facts too. They believe people want their GP practices open 7 days a week even though every scheme in which this has been piloted has failed because people simply do not want routine GP appointments on a Sunday. They ignore the fact that the highest users of general practice are the elderly retired and pre-school children, both of whom want appointments in the working weekday. And they ignore the fact that they have been told time and again by experts in healthcare that what they are proposing is not currently possible.
The truth is that this is not about what the public wants, this is about economic productivity. The government does not want people sneaking away from their workstations during the week to be ill, they would rather that a swarm of diligent drones work slavishly through the week and then spend the weekend repairing their ailing bodies ready to start afresh on Monday.
This is a vision of a world where your health is a secondary concern to your economic output.
Whose vision of the future for Britain is this? The Asian cultures to which Mr Hunt wishes us to aspire undoubtedly have a formidable work ethic but of course this comes at a price. School children in South Korea, for example, typically do a double shift each day, attending school from 8 o'clock to 4'o'clock and then again in the evening from 6 till 9 o'clock. Connected to all this intense book work is an epidemic of short sightedness such that 96.5% of all 19 year old men in South Korea are short sighted. These children are working so hard it is actually damaging their eyes. They also have the second highest suicide rate in the world.
I am not convinced that this is a mind-set we should embrace.
The 7 day NHS is not about patient convenience or choice or even patient safety. It is about keeping people at work despite the weaknesses of human flesh.