Wrightington Hospital, in the countryside near Wigan, is an accretion of postwar buildings of different eras clustered round an 18th-century mansion. It was sold to Lancashire County Council in 1920 after the death of its last resident, a spendthrift, according to one writer, ‘with a fanatical attachment to blood sports’. The hospital promotes itself as ‘a centre of orthopaedic excellence’. National Health Service hospitals have to promote themselves these days. Earlier this year it survived a brush with closure. It’s neat and scrubbed and slightly worn at the edges, unable to justify to itself that few per cent of the budget the private sector sets aside for corporate sheen, although it does have a museum dedicated to John Charnley, who, almost half a century ago, pioneered the popular benchmark of the NHS’s success or failure, the hip replacement operation.
They still do hips at Wrightington, and knees, and elbows, and shoulders. They deal with joint problems that are too tricky for general hospitals. There’s a sort of blazer and brogues testosterone in the corridors, where the surgeons have a habit of cuffing one another’s faces affectionately. At the end of a hallway lined with untidy stacks of case notes in wrinkled cardboard folders Martyn Porter, a senior surgeon and the hospital’s clinical chairman, waited in his office to be called to the operating theatre. He fixed me with an intense, tired, humorous gaze. ‘The problem with politicians is they can’t be honest,’ he said. ‘If they said, “We’re going to privatise the NHS,” they’d be kicked out the next day.’
The Conservative Party’s 2010 manifesto promised: ‘We are stopping the top-down reconfigurations of NHS services, imposed from Whitehall.’ Two months later, the new health secretary, the Conservative Andrew Lansley, announced his plans for a top-down reconfiguration of England’s NHS services, imposed from Whitehall