Worst Opinion of the Week: 'The British Public Should Raise Money for the NHS'

Treating the NHS like a charity rather than a severely underfunded public health service is the beginning of a slippery slope.
by NEO
17 April 2020, 3:39pm
Man running with dog
Photo Credit: Chris Bethell
Welcome to The Worst Take of the Week – a column in which NEO, AKA @MULLET_FAN_NEO, crowns the wildest hot take of the week.

Story: People are raising money for NHS workers.
Reasonable take: A lovely sentiment, but I really wish the NHS wasn't treated like a charity and instead funded appropriately.
Brain rot: "Let's have the the public plug the gaps caused by the last ten years of government cuts!"

As the coronavirus pandemic whittles away the notion of social interaction being anything more than a lip-folded smile at a fellow citizen on their state-sanctioned daily stroll, we're all finding ourselves glued to our social medias feeds in an even more desperate search for social validation than before. It's got to the point where our weekly "Screen Time report" amounts to cyber bullying. So it seems a safe bet at this point – as you've tapped your way through the Instagram stories of best mates, co-workers, cousins, all the way through to the dregs of that one-off smoking area acquaintance you inexplicably still follow five years on – that you'll have come across someone, somewhere, doing the "Run For Heroes" challenge.

Like many noble viral challenges in our recent history – the "ice bucket' challenge", the "cinnamon challenge" – the "trying not to die of COVID-19 in a mass herd immunity experiment" challenge involves participants doing something somewhat unpleasant and then nominating a friend to follow suit.

The "Run For Heroes challenge" is more wholesome than those mentioned above, as it involves people jogging for 5 kilometres, posting a screenshot of their route and time as proof, before donating £5 to the NHS and nominating five other mates to follow suit. The challenge has so far seen lockdown runners raise £2.7 million for NHS Charities Together.

There's nothing wrong with that, obviously. The NHS needs money due to a decade of being stripped to its bare bones, and people are trying to make up the shortfall. We'll come to whether or not they should be in a minute, but for now let's talk about Virgin.

The Virgin Money Giving platform is being used as one of the primary platforms to collect money for the NHS, which has inspired this week's mass Richard Branson-directed antipathy (impressive, given Virgin Orbit also announced that it was going to help Donald Trump colonise space). In 2016, Virgin Care sued the NHS after it lost out on an £82 million contract to provide children's health services across Surrey (in a blog post, CEO Vivienne McVey said all money awarded in damages was invested back into Virgin's NHS services). On top of that, all donations on Virgin Giving are subject to "a 2 percent platform fee, and a 2.5 percent payment processing fee".

After this article was published, Virgin Money Giving announced that it would waive the platform fee for the remainder of lockdown. A spokesperson also said the processing cost covers the credit card fees, which it has no control over, and that the company has always made clear that it doesn't make a profit on donations.

Still, maybe it's just me, but a platform operated by a financial services brand (Virgin Money) charging 2 percent to process charitable donations – outside of a lockdown scenario, of course – seems excessive. Can you imagine attempting to deduct 2 percent off your bills and explaining that you had to use your broadband to "process" the fee on your "platform", i.e. your NatWest banking app? Once our "eviction holiday" is over you'd have your head kicked in by a bailiff before you could enjoy your first post-lockdown pint.

A Virgin Group spokesperson said: "The Virgin Group has invested more than £75m into Virgin Care and neither Richard, nor the Virgin Group have ever taken a penny out of the NHS, nor do they intend to do so. All monies received have been reinvested back into paying for delivering services as well as being invested in transformation projects to improve the NHS. Richard and everyone at the Virgin Group are immensely proud of the Virgin Care team who have, like everyone else in the NHS, been going above and beyond in this time of crisis."

Virgin drama aside, for me, it's an alarming trend to see our most fundamental and important institution treated as some sort of charity.

As heartwarming as it is that 99-year-old veteran Captain Tom Moore is currently zimmering around his Bedfordshire back garden 100 times as he approaches his 100th birthday, and has raised more than £17 million for the NHS in the process, it simply shouldn't need to happen. We shouldn't have to be relying on the benevolence of private individuals to plug the gaps the state has created.

Related: Britain's obsession with platitude pin-badges and gestures. On Thursday, Carrie Symonds was "clapping harder than ever" for our NHS while the police inexplicably created mass congregations on central London bridges in a show of "respect", ignoring the singular job they seem to have right now.

Let us all just take a fucking breather.

When you consider Britain's standing as the sixth richest country on planet Earth, you wonder how a place with so much money and considerably smaller populations than the United States, China, Japan, Germany and India has such a bollocks infrastructure and a festering health service?

We already "donate" to the NHS through a little thing called "general taxation", and if our tax isn't reaching our critical public services then it seems like that should be the point to focus on, not clapping at the Woolwich Ferry spinning doughnuts on the Thames.

Britain right now feels like the world's largest pyramid scheme, in which the public funnels wealth up to a set of cunts who hate us. We spend our taxpayer billions on refurbishing the "important stuff", like the Queen's gaff, or providing extra expenses for MPs, while our key workers have to plow on in shoddy conditions. By rights, our hospitals should look like the inside of Saddam Hussein’s palace, with gold taps and fucking marble arches, but really I think our NHS workers would be happy with the simpler things, like more facilities, better pay and actual PPE instead of bin-liners.


UPDATE 20/04/20: A comment from a Virgin Group spokesperson was added, along with a line to reflect that Virgin has announced it will be waiving the processing fee on donations through Virgin Giving. A line was deleted suggesting that Richard Branson approached the government directly for a £500 million bailout package for Virgin Atlantic. We regret the error.