The NHS’s performance during the Covid pandemic has been “nothing special” and the public have “no reason to be grateful” for its existence, a free-market think tank has claimed.
A new study by the Institute Of Economic Affairs (IEA) describes as a “myth” the idea that the health service had been a star performer over the past year.
The report by the think tank, which counts Tory peers and donors among its advisory board, compares the UK’s to other healthcare systems and concludes “there is no rational basis for the adulation the NHS is currently receiving”.
It states that the “Clap for Carers” and the public’s posters saying “Thank You NHS” last summer were part of the “false Covid-19 narratives”, including the suggestion that the health service had held the nation together during the crisis.
“Viral Myths: Why we risk learning the wrong lessons from the pandemic”, written by IEA head of political economy Kristian Niemietz, challenges the claim by Boris Johnson that the NHS “has been unbeatable”.
“What is safe to say is that there is no rational basis for the adulation the NHS is currently receiving, and no reason to be ‘grateful’ for the fact that we have it,” the report says.
It dismisses claims that the virus had exposed deep-rooted problems caused by austerity, globalisation or private systems of healthcare.
Ridiculing each claim as “Coronfirmation Bias”, the report states that the best performing countries in the pandemic had much lower levels of public spending on healthcare than the UK and more open economies.
The report praises the four ‘Asian Tigers’ of Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore for having exceptionally low numbers of Covid deaths while keeping their economies protected from harm.
“The best performers do not have national health services. Their healthcare systems are not similar to the NHS,” it states.
The report stresses that an effective pandemic response “is compatible with a variety of public spending levels, a variety of trade regimes, and a variety of healthcare systems” and that there is no evidence to suggest one model did better than others.
But it says that the government’s “protect the NHS” policy shifted the burden into care homes and put the elderly at risk, led to long waiting lists for non-Covid treatment linked to excess deaths and failed to roll out mass testing early enough.
“It should go without saying that if the UK did not have the NHS, it would not have no healthcare system. It would have a different healthcare system. Maybe it would have a public health insurance system similar to the Taiwanese or the Australian one, or maybe it would have a social health insurance system similar to the Swiss or the German one.
“There is no guarantee that this would have served the UK better during the pandemic, but there is certainly no reason to believe that it would have done any worse. There is nothing special about the NHS, neither during this pandemic, nor at any other time.”
It adds: “While we cannot blame the NHS for policy failures in areas completely unrelated to healthcare, neither can we claim that the UK’s high excess death rate had nothing to do with healthcare.”
Niemietz challenges the idea that “the NHS has emerged as the star performer of the pandemic”. He states: “It has, but only in the way in which for proud parents watching a school performance, their own child will always stand out as the ‘star performer’, even if nobody else sees it that way.”
His paper concludes: “A pandemic is not going to solve our longstanding ideological disputes for us.
“Age-old arguments about the appropriate balance between the state and the market, about how open our economy should be, or about what type of health reforms (if any) we need, are not going to be settled by a virus.”
The IEA, whose advisory board includes Tory peers Lord Flight and Lord Borwick as well as donors such as Alexander Temerko, has long argued for free-market solutions to policy.
Matt Hancock has come under fire previously for accepting £32,000 in donations from IEA chairman Neil Record.
When asked if Hancock should return the money, the PM’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said: “I don’t think that the government’s in the business of linking any money and the conclusions of reports.
“It’s for think tanks to conclude whatever they deem a right and accurate reflection of the work they’ve done.”
She added: “Let’s not forget he [the PM] himself has recovered from Covid and was treated in hospital when he was incredibly unwell, and he remains grateful to the people who nursed him then.
“At the beginning of the pandemic he was every Thursday night clapping for carers because of the extraordinary efforts and exhausting work and job that all of them have done to care for our families and loved ones.”
But deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner has now written to Hancock demanding he distance himself from the IEA report and return the donations he received.