Ailments can so easily be politicised. Where there is any kind of pain or suffering, weasel politicians smelling blood gravitate to the scene like the hyenas you always knew they were.
It was so back in history when the British confected a case for conflict over the detached organ of an unfortunate sea captain and so the War of Jenkins’ Ear was born. Google it, why don’t you?
So it is now. For many reasons, the small islands making up the countries called the UK have 65 million souls by the official count, but that is a nearly 20 per cent population increase since 1990.
Many services provided by the state have become overwhelmed by this fact. Revenues into the state have not commensurately increased in purchasing power terms. So there is a war to be fought over this latter day ear in a jar.
The Hiroshima target is Britain’s free health service. The National Health Service has been adopted by those who are not in government like some duffle-coated Peruvian orphan bear. It is no longer the NHS but it has become our NHS (though there is much anecdotal evidence that there are many from outside the UK who fly in to take advantage of the lackadaisical failure to check entitlement).
It is worth reminding ourselves that the UK has a tradition bordering on obsession of the ritual celebration of events. It’s plainly ‘bread and circuses’ to distract the populace from moaning about hyena politicians and the NHS. Usually these are sporting triumphs, or oftentimes disasters. The calendar runs Cheltenham winter race meeting full of drunks and the Irish, then the Grand National horse race of death (everyone is temporarily an expert of horseflesh and the jumps), followed by Ascot (ditto for racing without jumping) The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, Wimbledon (Come on Tim! or someone else whose certainly destined to lose — and everyone for a two week period knows their backhand lob from percentage first service faults), then it’s the cricket and so on to take up more time until attention turns from sport to the celebration of Christmas – a festival which now begins in retail terms in late August – I kid you not.
In parallel we talk endlessly and amaterurishly of the weather, in a country where 72F is perceived as a stultifying heatwave and 31F is Arctic chill. Each and every winter the conversation turns to disease. Yes folks it is the “flu season”. And guess what happens? Our NHS gets a bunch more customers with respiratory disease blocking further the already creaking conveyor belt of “get ’em in, get ’em well, get ’em out.”
And of course circling politicians make much of this. But here’s the thing. There have always been winter crises in the NHS. Even before there was an NHS there were winter crises. Flu epidemics – or should that be pandemics? — like the poor, have always been with us and have overwhelmed the health systems of the world.
Most are familiar with the Spanish Flu of 1918-19 that is said to have killed 50 million. Right now it’s Aussie Flu, but bird flu, Hong Kong Flu and Asian Flu have all had their day in the sick beds of the world.
Even the years when there wasn’t a plague, there was enough sickness to stop the buses and the postal service. People expected it. Here’s what was happening in Britain during January 1933 when there was a mini pandemic:-
It wasn’t that we had to find someone to blame for death and disease back then. Here are the sage thoughts in a song by lesser known Texas blues singer Ace Johnson and his take on its inevitability and universality of flu, from 1939.
Influenza is a disease, makes you weak all in your knees
’Tis a fever everybody sure does dread
Puts a pain in every bone, a few days and you are gone
To a place in the ground called the grave
Of course you could always rely on advertisers to come up with a cure. This is from that same January back in 1933.