ourNHS

Is Nigel Farage talking bollocks about the NHS?

Nigel Farage is using his experience of testicular cancer to condemn the NHS. A fellow survivor - now a doctor - takes the UKIP leader to task.

John Lamport
23 March 2015
Nigel_Farage_of_UKIP.jpg

Image: Wikipedia

I don't have much in common with Nigel Farage, but we do share one thing. Literally. We each lost a testicle to cancer - and we probably both hear the same jokes about it too.

There the similarity ends. My gratitude to the NHS for saving my life led me to become a doctor. His anger at it for “nearly killing” him led to a lifelong disdain – except for emergencies, since it twice saved his life. Now he is arguing you're better off going private. As a doctor, I’d say his diagnosis is dead wrong.

Nigel Farage likes a good debate I’m told, so here’s my offer. Head-to-head, one-ball to one-ball, let’s really hammer out what Nigel is selling the British public and why it's bollocks.

He, a City broker, had consulted a doctor within days of warning signs; his testicular cancer had not spread. I was a 16-year-old schoolboy, busy with GCSE revision, who hesitated too long before seeing mine. It had spread, and I needed chemotherapy. Nine months of vomiting, nausea, sleeplessness, and constant mouth/throat ulcers later, I had lost four stone and the nerve endings in my hands and feet. My lungs, kidneys, immune system and heart are permanently damaged. I didn't even notice when my hair fell out. But we are both the lucky ones. I saw friends on the ward, lads younger than Nigel, die.

Nigel has twice told the story of his cancer in print, four years apart and significantly different in detail. I can't pronounce on his case but I do know his amateur self-diagnosis – “All they had had to do that first night in A&E was to have me referred for a scan” – is bollocks. A painful swollen testicle fits at least four other conditions better than cancer. Testicular torsion – which fits the description he gives – can kill within hours; if sent for a scan he could have died. (For the chaps out there who might be worried yourselves, check out NHS Choices for more information).

He was instead sent for immediate surgery, where the cancer might have been detected then and there. But the operation was halted – in his latest account – by an “Indian doctor” who wrote it off as an infection. His first account, strangely, called down blessings on the head of the “Indian consultant” who eliminated torsion as a cause and prescribed antibiotics for the next most likely diagnosis – infection. Again, nothing I would argue with as a doctor.

Farage says the NHS then fobbed him off for “the best part of two months” – yet he was referred to a consultant the very same day when he went back to his GP. I'm puzzled, too, that the mysterious consultant who told him to keep taking the tablets doesn't appear in Farage's first account, but I do know he was fully entitled to a second opinion on the NHS if he wasn't satisfied.

Still, I'm glad his Harley Street oncologist gave him the excellent service – as he was also giving his NHS patients at the time, though Farage never mentions them. (Ironically, the oncologist later resigned from NHS work amid the previous Tory government’s funding cuts!) Farage was also fortunate to have a leading NHS consultant from nearby Guy’s and St Thomas's as his surgeon.

Neither staff nor patients are robots: the NHS sees a million patients every 36 hours so mistakes will happen, but they also happen in privatised systems that cost far more and exclude more people. Personally, knowing all that I do about private healthcare, I'd feel safer in an NHS hospital. That's where the private patient ends up anyway, brought by NHS ambulance, if complications arise. 

Nigel Farage is using a single, poorly understood, muddled anecdote from almost 30 years ago – when testicular cancer survival rates were far lower than today’s 98% – to trash the healthcare system which the Commonwealth Fund ranks as the best and most cost effective in the world. So politically and economically, as well as personally, he's talking bollocks. 

While it’s great that many thousands of NHS patients share Farage's happy-ending story - even though they weren't City brokers with access to private insurance - what worries me is how hard he works now to ensure this won’t continue. We'll all pay in for the emergency NHS that saved him when he stepped off the pavement drunk (by his own admission) into the path of a passing car and again when his plane crashed. But cancer? It’ll be costly private insurance for the likes of him; whatever the government feels it can spare divided between the rest of us.

UKIP’s health spokesperson is a personable young woman, previously an actor in Peak Practice and other prime time shows. She offers us reassurance that UKIP would sustain our NHS. But it turns out this will be funded by a mythical exit from the EU, and a mythical saving of billions of pounds from industrial-scale health tourism which simply doesn't exist.

Meanwhile Farage openly says the future of the NHS lies in an insurance-based system, and his deputy ‎Paul Nuttall is on film calling the NHS, “A monolithic hangover from days gone by".

Farage is either ignorant or cynical in praising private insurance/co-payment in France and the Netherlands. Is he not aware that the French pay 30% more per head for their healthcare and the Dutch almost 60% more? Privatisation pushes costs up not down. It boosts demand and, as McKinsey's report on spiralling costs in the Dutch system explains: “Whether a (perhaps more expensive) treatment really is worthwhile and will lead to extra health benefits is no longer always the predominant factor when deciding whether or not to deliver it.”

If he really cared, Farage would back the NHS Reinstatement Bill; his two Tory MPs would apologise for the disastrous 2012 Health & Social Care Act; his deputy Paul Nuttall would applaud immigrants for keeping our NHS going. And he would back his funding pledges with real rather than mythical money.

Of course the NHS does not have the resources it needs – of all the G7 nations, the UK spends the least of GDP on healthcare. With barely a quarter of the MRI units that Greece has and less than half the CT scanners of Portugal, its cancer diagnostic services struggle, with targets missed for the whole of 2014. Major units' A&E targets haven't been met since 2013. Our scarce hospital beds have been halved in the last 30 years. We have lost doctors, we have lost nurses – and because of that we have lost patients.

When the NHS emerged as a key issue in this election, all the major parties clasped it to their bosom quoting all sorts of figures – a few billion here, an unfunded target there – to show their love. Yet their policies point to further privatisation, the additional bureaucracy that entails, and below-inflation budget increases. 

I’m standing for the National Health Action Party because it is committed to a fully-funded, publicly-provided and publicly-accountable NHS, free at the point of need. We'd scrap the market, halt privatisation, unwind PFI deals, and stop the waste‎ on locums and management consultants. There are billions to be saved. And we won't shy away from asking for more money either. We think the British public understand the value they get from their NHS and will back a penny rise in income tax.

We've got the balls to do it. Sadly Farage and his party don't.

Like this piece? Please donate to OurNHS here to help keep us producing the NHS stories that matter. Thank you.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email

Comments

We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram