If you want to experience the Tory vision for the NHS, get a cat

Today I have a little story for you. It’s a kind of parable about health care and cats.

Sweet and innocent, right? Nope.

Not long after I moved into my new house, my partner and I adopted a cat named Toby. From time to time Toby can be an awkward, boisterous little cuss. I could do without his habit of biting my toes at 5am demanding to be fed. But that is the way cats are sometimes, I’m fully aware of what I signed up for, and my partner and I are very glad to have him in our lives and should be very sad if anything ever happened to him. He is a part of our family.

A few months ago, we noticed that he’d picked up a scratch on his belly. We don’t know how he got it — we suspect he caught it on a fence. It was a few days before we noticed the scratch, because it was quite small, and his behaviour and appetite hadn’t changed so it clearly wasn’t causing him any distress. But when we did notice it we were concerned by how it looked. Our first thought was that it might be an abscess. And so we duly made an appointment with our local veterinary practice to get him checked out.

Our vets are brilliant. My family have kept cats since I was a kid and we’ve always registered them with the same practice because of how good they are, both with the cats and with us. I knew that they’d book us in to get Toby seen to quickly, and so a day or two later we bundled him into his carrier and took him down to be examined. We were relieved to be told that he was okay and the scratch wasn’t abscessed — but it was infected and would need treatment with a topical cream to help it heal up. So he was prescribed a week’s course of fuciderm, which we picked up at the dispensary when we settled the bill: £50 for the consultation, £20 for the cream. £70, all in all.

Being a responsible pet owner, my first order of business when we adopted him was to get him insured for veterinary bills. After thirty minutes of dealing with a meerkat in a dressing gown, Toby was insured for any treatment he would need — but insurance policies usually have an excess charge, and Toby’s policy had an excess of £100. So I was on the hook. It wasn’t a serious problem as we had some money spare, but £70 is still a decent chunk of change if you’re on relatively low pay, and that had been money I was looking forward to spending on other things. But, as I said, Toby is a part of my family, and I’m grateful that I didn’t have to make the choice between spending the money on whatever was needed to help one of my family feel better and spending the money on, say, a utility bill. If I’d had to make that choice, I’m not sure how I would have resolved the conundrum.

Under the Conservatives, particularly under Jeremy Hunt, the NHS is actively being privatised. Virgin Care, a private profit-making enterprise, hold a number of contracts to deliver NHS services to the public, such as the £700M contract for community health and care services in Bath and North East Somerset. Jersey already has a system in place where patients are charged £30 to book an appointment to see a GP, and there have already been proposals to roll this system out nationwide.

The Conservative agenda for the National Health Service results in those with the means to pay being seen quickly. Those without the means are left to choose between paying the bills and getting that cough checked out because you’re worried about the air quality where you live.

The NHS is this country’s crowning achievement of the past century. It is not right in any wealthy nation that ordinary citizens should face the dilemma of paying for the basics of life or paying for health care that they or their loved ones desperately need. The Conservative vision for health care in Britain is veterinary medicine: private, possibly expensive, good quality if you register with a good practice, inconsistent across the country, and with a premium on the best care. It’s a vision that the Liberal Democrats, with their Orange Book, aided and abetted in coalition. There’s only one party with the ability and the will to protect the NHS, and that’s the party that built it: Labour.

If you want to know what caring for your family’s health will be like when the NHS is gone, get a pet. If you want to stop that vision from coming about, vote for your local Labour candidate on June 8th.

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