Health and Politics in the UK

910 words | 4 page(s)

One might assume that some topics would be outside of the purview of politics. Those topics might be of such great importance that they would not be used as political footballs. In the modern world, though, it seems that almost every topic can have a political angle. This includes health, especially in the United Kingdom, where different parties and political interests often collide over the question of health. Just how is health political in the UK? Health in the UK is dominated by questions of privitisation, as competing political ideologies seek to define how and when individuals receive healthcare.

The current health arrangement in the UK, embodied by the National Health Service, was put into place by the Labour government that dominated the country following World War II (Henderson & Petersen). When one understands that the NHS was the creation of a political party, one can understand how, in the world of competitive politics, a competitor might rise in order to challenge the NHS’s grasp on the country. At the time, the Labour Party mobilized because of confidence in government to fulfill various tasks. To be sure, this was a movement that crossed country lines. In the United States, good feelings about the end of the war and a resurgence brought on by the New Deal fueled more confidence that government could provide things like health and retirement insurance (Beland). This led to the establishment and acceptance of Social Security and Medicare, the American systems of protecting the elderly. The same was true in the UK, as people believed that the government could bring together providers and critical personnel in favor of a single payer system in which various individuals received healthcare for free at the point of delivery.

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Over the course of time, the NHS has become somewhat unassailable (Montonari & Nelson). Regardless of the political leanings of the person in power, there have been vows to protect the NHS from the forces that might seek to run it down. Prime Minister David Cameron is the latest to adopt the ideology that the NHS should not be touched, and many more have vowed to protect it under their watch (Marmor & Wendt). Part of this is because the service is extremely popular in the UK, and the citizenry tends to drive political action. Recently, though, health in the UK has become much more of a political football. This is because the Tory party has adopted an agenda that, at least in part, seeks to adopt a system more like the American arrangement.

What is not political is the idea that people deserve good healthcare. There is general agreement that healthcare is a public good, and the country would be better off if people had access to the best health services. What is political is the question of how this healthcare should be provided. One part of the government believes that nationalised health provides the best possible answer. This is somewhat aligned with the political ideology that favors government intervention in order to provide critical services. Those in favor of continued public provision of healthcare through the NHS are those that believe that the government has the capacity, even with its bureaucracy, to provide people with services that are effective and cost-effective. These are individuals who hold to the belief that the government has a duty to play a role in this regard because adding in a profit incentive on something like healthcare will tend to produce an arrangement where perverse incentives rule the day. Simply put, to ensure that people receive the best in healthcare, this element of the political spectrum believes that the government must be active.

On the other side, there is a belief that the free market may provide lower costs through competition. These are individuals, mostly of the Tory bent, who see possibilities with private entities providing health insurance in a way similar to that of the American system (Greer). While these people do believe that the government could play a role in regulating the markets, they believe that by only having a public player, the country is missing out on the positive growth and innovation that might follow with more players in the market. This aligns with the political ideology that favors less government intervention. These people are certainly not small government conservatives in the traditional sense, but they do fight for the proposition that the functions of government should be limited in scope. They see healthcare as something that people deserve, but they believe the private market has a much better ability to meet the needs of individuals (Bambra, Fox, & Scott-Samuel). In this way, health becomes a political football that helps to show the political divide in the UK. Even though the parties agree on the end goal, they have deep disagreements on the best ways to reach that end goal.

Ultimately health in the UK is a political issue just like almost everything else. The government is starting to be divided on the question of whether the NHS should continue to be a sacred cow moving forward. While it has long been a bi-partisan favorite because it has been a favorite of the citizenry, people are beginning to question whether this should remain the case. In the future, this will continue to be a political question, as Tory party leaders push an agenda that sees private health interests playing a much more important role in providing the people with the care that they need.

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