What the NHS should learn from the private sector

The NHS is brilliant.

Yes, I know that as a British person I have to say that otherwise a hit squad of underpaid nurses and junior doctors will inject me with MRSA and curb stomp me in an ambulance zone, but it’s true.

The NHS is a fantastic institution and one example of where the basic tenants of socialism – when applied in the correct context – can genuinely improve millions of people’s lives. Despite this fact, not everyone in Britain is quite so keen.

We all love the NHS, but what we don’t love, is paying for it. From national insurance to the wider issue of government taxation, the vast majority of British citizens cannot stand the idea of handing over a significant chunk of their pay to the elitist lizards we currently call our democratically elected government.

From my own experience, bile spewed in the direction of taxation seems to originate far more from the old than it does the young. I can only assume that this is because older people have spent more of their lives shelling out to pay for “MP expenses and those fucking flowers on the Church Street roundabout”.

The older generation in this country has a similar relationship to taxation as the young do towards torrenting and movie privacy

Oddly enough however, such bile doesn’t really bother me. It’s far more the institutionalised indifference towards the value of taxation that gets on my EU Gift Aid funded goat. Across all walks of my – admittedly middle class – life, I see people casually discussing how they managed to “put this through the business” or “shift that to the Swiss holiday home” as a way to save a bit of money on tax. The older generation in this country seem to have a similar relationship to taxation as the young do towards torrenting and movie privacy; that it just doesn’t matter.

The fact that these people use roads, and the NHS, and presumably went to school, and benefit from government funded research, and use government sponsored technologies, and hire government educated staff, never really occurs to them. To them, it all comes down to the greedy government “taking” their hard earned cash and wasting it on parties, cocaine, prostitutes and hospitals for children. The selfish twats.

What we need is more evidence that the burden of taxation is benefiting us. As anyone with a Direct Debit will tell you, most people don’t actually mind having a chunk of their salaries disappear, as long as they know that the that money is going to give them life’s essentials (light, gas, water and Netflix). What people do object to however, is having their money disappear into a void of government budgets with no idea how or where it is being spent.

Rather than worrying about taxing less, the government just needs to communicate better and provide evidence of tax spend in day to day life. That’s how the private sector does it, and it’s a lesson that government services would do well to learn.

Last time I used an NHS service I was annoyed that I still had to cough up £20 despite being a tax paying British citizen. The fact that the service cost the NHS nearly £100 – something I learned much later on – hadn’t even occurred; there was no indication of the actual cost of what I was buying. Why is it only government services that make this mistake? I can’t buy a pickled egg in Sainsbury’s without getting a receipting telling me that I’ve saved 30p on my shop, why can’t the NHS do the same?

Nothing drastic, just a bit of conciousness raising on each receipt:  “Price: £80 – NHS discount: £60 – Total to pay: £20”

Back in 2015, Jeremy Hunt suggested something similar, if for completely the wrong motives. Rather than reminding people of the benefits of taxation, Hunt called for NHS medicines to be branded with ‘FUNDED BY THE UK TAXPAYER’ as a way to shame people into not wasting their medication.

It’s time to stop treating taxes as something we’re desperate to avoid, and instead treat them as what they are – an upfront payment for goods and services we actually need. By helping to normalise the idea that taxes are bad and that avoidance is natural we’re creating the very society of scroungers that the middle classes proclaim to hate.

Alex Warren
Alex Warren
Miserablist, whiskey-drinker, and general tinpot shambles. Alex Warren has a weary pessimism for all things media, politics and tech.