This morning on the BBC’s Breakfast programme, David Cameron gave the clearest possible indication of the Coalition mindset on the NHS when he referred to its users as “customers”.
It’s revealing because it shows that Cameron’s immediate instinct – one that I have no doubt is shared by the large majority of Tory and Liberal Democrat politicians – is that using the NHS is essentially a commercial transaction. To them it’s no different from buying and selling, and it’s about consumption.
And that’s clearly a nonsense. In our society, our relationship with health care is something immeasurably deeper and richer than that. We were born in NHS hospitals, our relationship with our doctor is a personal one, and our access to what the NHS provides is a matter of right rather than something to do with what we can afford. It’s something of an entirely different order from buying a tin of beans at the local Co-op, but Cameron, the Tories and their Liberal Democrat useful idiots cannot comprehend that.
It may be a slip of the tongue, or it may be an attempt to enlist the language of the market to effect the intellectual and emotional privatisation of the NHS before the actual event. But it speaks volumes about the Tories and their underlying attitude towards the healthcare that millions of Britons regard as a right.