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Artillery Row

Putting politics at the heart of everything

The NHS should care about patients, not ideology

One of the National Health Services’ core principles is to put the patient “at the heart of everything” it does. A noble undertaking — but lately it seems to be shifting away from the needs of patients to something more politically motivated. Like so many institutions, the NHS now sees itself as an ally of the social justice revolution currently sweeping the nation. I was reminded of this uncomfortable reality during a recent email correspondence with ICope, the mental health arm of the NHS.

I had been enquiring about therapy courses and received an email laying out the various options available to patients. The letter was polite and informative, asking whether I felt “well and safe”. The administrator signed off with her preferred pronouns in colourful child-like letters next to an LGBTQI+ rainbow flag that included the ICope logo hidden amongst the cacophony of clashing stripes. So far, so progressive. Then beneath the flag I noticed a hefty banner linking me to the BLM website.

Naturally, I clicked. Perhaps BLM had something interesting to say about the UK’s current mental health crisis — or maybe it had been campaigning to get the Tory government to spend more on psychiatric treatments. I knew that George Floyd had suffered from mental health issues due to an opioid addiction, so I wondered whether there might be something about black people being more likely to experience serious mental health problems such as Major Depressive Disorder or Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

As I sifted through BLM’s familiar campaigning rhetoric, I found precisely nothing about the NHS or mental health more broadly. Instead there was the usual backslapping from board members who claim to be “combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination” whilst “charting new horizons for Black Joy and Black liberation”. Nothing about how they intend to reach this joyous new dawn but — hey! — if it generates more funding, who cares. 

The site also contains a post about how the overturning of Roe v. Wade opened the door to “state-wide bans and subsequent rulings that will harm Black people disproportionately”. It was all very informative for American civil rights activists but utterly irrelevant to my needs as an NHS user. Did I feel “at the heart of everything the NHS does”? Not really. Did I find it sinister that a publicly funded institution supposedly focusing on health thought it appropriate to link me to a highly politicised US civil rights campaigning organisation? Frankly, yes. 

The strangulating roots of social justice are embedded in all big corporations

Keen to find out more about the connection between the NHS and social justice activism, I turned to the ICope website. It includes a video outlining the importance of achieving a diverse workforce — fine, but why is this of any interest to vulnerable patients seeking treatment? Despite being one of the most diverse institutions in the country, the video states that the NHS now recognises “institutional racism exists across the health care systems in the UK” and that for particular ethnic groups, there are disparities in outcomes. We are informed that the “field of psychologies” tends to be “white middle class professionals” (insinuating that this is a bad thing). Because the UK is multicultural and ethnically diverse, it’s “really, really important that the staff also represent the populations that we serve”. Notice how “disparities in outcomes” serves the institutional racism card. Should I care about the ethnicity of my GP? Only if it means that doctors of colour aren’t being held to the same standards as their white counterparts because of some DEI diktat. The pledge also includes adapting treatments according to race, which is not only suspect but undermines one of the NHS’s other core principles: to treat patients equally. 

Although there is no mention of BLM on the ICope website, the two institutions are clearly working from the same presupposition that we live in a systemically racist society in need of a radical overhaul. Since the death of George Floyd, this unchallenged assumption has been directed within institutions themselves, from Rada and the civil service all the way up to the Church of England. Scratch the surface of any big corporation, and you find the strangulating roots of social justice embedded in all their governance practices. Each one will have pledged unquestioning allegiance to the cause, even if the consequences of that cause undermine their own principles.

You might be innocently enquiring about an NHS treatment or looking for job opportunities at your local library, but behind the scenes, a silent revolution is under way. You may not have been party to the current cultural insurrection, but as a customer or employee you will be expected to capitulate. Needless to say, it doesn’t do much for our mental health. 

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