The NHS did not deserve the George Cross
Interestingly, the award of the George Cross to the National Health Service is presented as a personal decision of the Queen. Formally, it is true, all these rewards come from the Head of State. It is also true, in this case, that the announcement of the award was accompanied by a handwritten letter from the Queen. The memo praised NHS staff “for over seven decades” for “their courage, compassion and dedication”. It makes no specific mention of Covid-19.
However, these awards are not, constitutionally, Her Majesty’s personal decision. Unlike the Order of the Garter or the Order of Merit, whose memberships are the direct gift of the Sovereign, the award of the George Cross is decided – like most medals and distinctions – “on advice”. This advice comes to him from the George Cross Committee and the Prime Minister. It is therefore a political decision (but not, of course, a party).
When the Queen gave the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, for example, it was a kind of retirement gift – the force was being replaced – and it was at the suggestion of Ireland’s secretary of the Northern era, Peter Mandelson. He was making a (justified) political gesture to calm concerns about the changes.
So, one does not criticize the personal judgment of the Queen if one disagrees with this particular sentence. It was the government that decided. While it’s easy to see why he wanted to act the way he did, I think he was wrong to do so.
It is certainly important to find ways to recognize the immense efforts of hundreds of thousands of NHS workers – and a similar number of other workers in many walks of life – during the pandemic. I hope, for example, that there will be a campaign medal for everyone who has volunteered to help administer the vaccines. I hope that special recognition will be given to all who have died in service.
But I don’t think the NHS, as an institution, has an unblemished record in coronavirus history. He is not, on the whole, an appropriate recipient of a medal invented to recognize “acts of the greatest heroism or the most manifest courage in circumstances of extreme danger”. For an exceptional nurse, doctor or paramedic, yes. For a whole gigantic bureaucracy, no.
In his resignation letter a few weeks ago, former Health Secretary Matt Hancock wrote: ‘The NHS is the best gift a nation has ever given itself’. Is that so? Better than the fighter pilots in 1940, or universal suffrage or the abolition of slavery? Better than the US Constitution? If the NHS is such a wonderful thing, why hardly any other advanced country uses the same model? And by the way, the word “gift” is strange to describe our most expensive national taxpayer-funded entity.
While welcoming the desire to thank everyone who has helped others through this great crisis, we must not indulge in a national illusion. A significant proportion of suffering during Covid was caused by the fact that the NHS was not, to use the jargon of age, “fit for purpose”.
He was ill-prepared and could not adapt quickly. He had shockingly poor relationships with nursing homes. Foreigners have had to rush to fix supply issues – an influx that, in the case of vaccines, has made all the difference. “Protect the NHS” – the very slogan used to justify the lockdown – was itself a symptom of a serious problem. A health service should be there to protect the public, not the other way around.
And today, as normal life gradually returns, millions of people, often with illnesses without care for 18 months, find the NHS extremely difficult to re-engage. A large number of frail and elderly people have not been able to see a doctor. With many general surgeries, it seems like real visits to real doctors are becoming a thing of the past. The Covid experience argues for NHS reform, not collective holiness.
Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t talking gibberish when he talked about strangers
When Donald Rumsfeld, the controversial US Secretary of Defense during the invasion of Iraq, died last week, the media resurrected a famous quote from him during a press briefing in 2002. Rumsfeld said so. : “Reports that say something didn’t happen are always interesting to me, because as we know there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know that there are known unknowns; that is, we know there are things we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know, we don’t know. And if you look through the history of our country and other free countries, it is this latter category that tends to be the most difficult. “
Rumsfeld was greatly ridiculed at the time, as if he was talking gibberish. The media were angry because they suspected he was evading questions about the existence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.
But his words are quite lucid. They perfectly sum up the situation in which decision-makers often find themselves. If there is one criticism of Rumsfeld, it is not that he made these distinctions, but that he did not apply them correctly. More respect for the danger of unknown unknowns could have led the United States to have a much more careful plan for the consequences of the Iraq war.