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You can keep your privates away from me, thank you very much

Submitted by on July 11, 2017 – 8:50 pm2 Comments

Having never given it a second thought, mainly down to having the NHS and therefore not needing it, private healthcare was something I’d never been intimately acquainted with. That all changed a few years back however, when I took employment within the industry. At the time I was toiling away miserably in a job I hated (well, for ‘toiling’ read ‘skiving’, but as anyone who’s ever pretended to look busy will tell you, it takes a lot of time and effort to give the impression you’re working hard, so it was technically a toiling of sorts), and when a friend of a friend said there were positions going in the office at the company they worked for, I jumped at the chance of a fresh start.

NHS Strike

The company in question was a well-known private healthcare organisation, and to me it sounded like a cushy line of work to get into. After all, private hospitals were places where footballers went to have their delicate metatarsals tended to, or where someone went when they needed that unsightly follicle-covered mole on their arse removing, weren’t they? Nothing sinister or NHS- impinging about it. Obviously I was aware of the private healthcare industry, but, like I said, I’d never given how the whole shebang worked even a second thought. Why would I? We have the NHS, and private healthcare types have their own, separate, caviar-infused little world. “And never the twain shall meet” Rudyard Kipling once famously said. Except this wonderfully quaint little sentence doesn’t quite apply when it comes to the worlds of public and private healthcare, as I was soon to find out.

The first shock came upon me, and came upon me with alarming swiftness, when I realised my new employer was in reality little more than an insurance business. This may sound naïve to some, but I was under the impression they owned hospitals, had their own staff, and administered their own treatment. If people wanted, they would then elect to have their treatment/procedure there, and they then either coughed up for what they owed, or used their own, separate insurance to pay for it. Well, not quite, as it turned out. A few years earlier this particular firm had sold off the vast majority of their hospitals, and now focused mainly on the insurance side of their business.

NHS Olympics

So, they didn’t have their own hospitals, and they didn’t have their own surgeons and consultants. What exactly did they have and how did it all work, then? Well, if a healthcare professional wanted to work for said company, they would have to apply for ‘recognition’, agreeing to their billing structure once they had proved their work was to the standards the company expected. Those who had then signed up to the private sector could carry out their private treatment alongside their NHS work, dividing time between private hospitals, NHS hospitals, and the private wings of NHS hospitals, in some cases initially seeing people on the NHS and then switching them to private, using the exact same facilities. So erm, yeah, not so separate after all, and in no way creating the potential for conflicts of interest. Nah, no chance of that whatsoever….

Maude Flanders (rest in peace, sweet princess) once famously stated her husband Ned didn’t take out home insurance as he saw it as a form of gambling. Now seeing as I’m quoting fictional cartoon characters and admitting to not knowing how private healthcare worked, you’re well within your rights to stop reading now, if you’ve not already. But in the context of your health, Ned was right: insurance is a gamble; probably the biggest gamble of all. Insurance policies, no matter what they’re for, come with caveats. It’s the whole point of insurance; your level of cover depends on how much you’re willing to/can afford to pay. But when you apply such thinking to healthcare, it quickly becomes apparent how morally repugnant the very concept of private healthcare and its associated insurance is. Had a stroke and need months and months of intense rehabilitation? Yeah, good luck getting that covered. How about a chronic illness that you’ve been stuck with since childhood? Jog on, dickhead. Fortunate enough to have had cancer before you took your policy out, and now it’s come back? Well, I think you’ll find that’s called a pre-existing condition, and as you well know, you’re not covered for that, nor will you ever be. State of you, thinking we’d cover that for you.

Ned

This is where the cold, hard reality of private healthcare really bites. It has one, dead-eyed, singular purpose, trampling on any other purpose that has the misfortune to get in its way: to make as much money as possible. That’s it. So when we see the Tories publicly knocking the NHS at every turn, or wacky old billionaire-bad boy Richard Branson buying up huge swathes of our public health service, we need to be worried. It’s a Conservative’s wet dream, the thought of dismantling free, public healthcare; it’s a concept that’s pure anathema to them. And if they get their way, the scenarios I just listed won’t be confined only to those who’d taken health insurance out and then not read their policies properly. It’d be all of us getting a shafting.

hunt

In 2013, my Mum slipped on some wet grass while out walking the dog. This seemingly innocuous event resulted in her breaking her ankle in three places and dislocating it. Four years and countless operations later, she’s just had an ankle replacement and can finally start to look forward to pain-free walking and getting her life back again. During those four years she had to give up work, had her benefits stopped, had to sell her car, won her appeal against her benefits being stopped (too late for her car, mind), and had to attend workshops and sign on fortnightly, making hour-long bus journeys, despite only being able to walk a few steps without experiencing excruciating pain.

While these four years have been ridiculously tough on her, I’ve been unable to shake the thought of how worse things would have been if she lived in America. The glee with which Donald Trump has sought to repeal ‘Obama Care’ has been sickening to watch, and would leave millions at the mercy of over-excited dogs and wet turf. Imagine facing that with only a private healthcare system and an insurance policy designed not to help you, but to line the pockets of a faceless suit somewhere. Did I say sickening? Sickening doesn’t even begin to cover it.

So what about me and my role in private healthcare? Well, there’s only so many times you can get grief from a retired major living in the Home Counties because he’s not read his policy properly. I hated it, and the more I realised how rotten to the core the system was, I just couldn’t marry working there with my beliefs. Luckily I’m out now, and there’ll be no dealing with private healthcare again for me. Unless the Tories see their plans through to completion, that is. And if that does happen, then quite frankly we’re all well and truly fucked.

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