Surface treatment

The NHS is treating 'low self-esteem' with tummy tucks.

Patrick West
Columnist

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Topics Politics
  • Operate on the NHS

According to a research published by Liverpool University, women are pretending to be depressed or exaggerating their symptoms in order to obtain free cosmetic surgery on the National Health Service (NHS). This finding tells us a great deal about why the NHS is no longer the ‘envy of the world’.

Why it is the state’s role to provide cosmetic surgery in the first place is anyone’s guess. There are legitimate cases, granted, such as when patients are extremely disfigured or need corrective work following an accident. Until recently, only under these circumstances was it carried out. This is now a thing of the past. In a typical NHS clinic studied by Liverpool University, almost half of requests for nose jobs and breast reductions were granted, as were a quarter of requests for tummy tucks, and slightly less than a fifth for breast enhancement.

This is the logical result of the pathologisation of feeling. Being depressed or having low self-esteem is now deemed to be illness, regarded as just as detrimental to one’s quality of life as a biological affliction. Therefore, the ‘remedy’ should logically be provided by the state, just as heart-bypasses or tonsil removal are.

The very fact that one can pretend to be depressed exposes the lie of putting mental and physical illness on a par with each other. One could not fake having kidney stones or a broken leg to get medical treatment, because these are proper afflictions. This is not to demean those who suffer from severe mental illness, it’s just to point out that having low-self esteem is not actually a medical condition that can be cured by surgeons.

Unlike a genuine illness, ‘depression’ in the vast majority of cases is something one can conquer without taking recourse to changing one’s physical appearance. Will power, rethinking one’s whole philosophy to life or simply finding help from friends, family or professionals can do this. No amount of placebos or ‘talking matters through’ is going to fix a broken neck or remove a burst appendix.

Like the provision of Viagra on the NHS, the normalisation of state-funded cosmetic surgery reflects the growth of the bloated, therapeutic state that will not only look after us from the cradle to the grave, but provide us with proverbial toys and kiss it all better when we’re unhappy. The social worker ethic has crept into hospital care. It’s time the rumour was removed and the NHS went back to doing what it was designed to: saving lives and curing sick people.

  • A dupe writes

I am what in these pages Brendan O’Neill calls a dupe (see Only dopes get duped). This is because I was broadly for the war on Iraq, but in retrospect think it was fought on phoney, non-existent grounds. Whether this was down to deliberate conniving in the West with regards to the threat posted by Iraq, or pure incompetence, remains to be seen. But what also remains to be seen are some weapons of mass destruction.

I do, however, think the debate over the whereabouts of WMD is important. When they are asked, government ministers tend to offer the reply: ‘Well, you’ve asked that question 100 times before! Can’t you just be happy that Iraq is liberated from a cruel tyrant?’ On the first point, people keep asking the same question because they still haven’t got an answer. Secondly, it is good to see the country liberated, but it does set a dangerous precedent: that you can go around invading countries simply because you disapprove of the regime.

Another response of ministers is that we should stop wasting time arguing about it and get on with the job of rebuilding Iraq in its time of need. Yet it is not as if the two things are mutually incompatible. Additionally, it exposes a rather odd ethical mindset. Thousands have died thanks to a war that looks increasingly like it was waged on bogus grounds. Imagine if the government hanged a man for murder, and evidence subsequently came to light that he was completely innocent. Would the Home Secretary say: ‘Well look, he’s dead now. There’s no point crying over spilt milk. It’s time to move on.’?

I still don’t have sympathy with the ‘UN Mandate’ brigade, who seemed to entrust an impotent organisation largely run for the benefit of African kleptocrats. Nor still do I have sympathy for the leading lights of the anti-war brigade, whose vacuous and egotistical protests prior to and during the conflict were quite an off-putting spectacle to behold. I don’t believe in ‘humanitarian wars’ (in which, as in Yugoslavia, one dabbles with something one doesn’t understand, to terrible effect); there is no such thing as a conflict that breaks ‘international law’ (which doesn’t exist in the first place); and nations should fight only for self-protection.

  • Risky rugby

Having attended my first rugby union match earlier this year, I have this summer now been to two rugby league games – seeing London Broncos RLFC take on Hull and Huddersfield at Griffin Park, otherwise known home of, ahem, Brentford FC.

The most striking thing about the sport is its intense violence. The game mostly consists of burly blokes running headfirst into another group of equally burly blokes who send the first burly bloke with the ball crashing to the ground, and sit on him as he wiggles his legs around trying to get free. In these days of health ‘n’ safety mania it is remarkable that a game that would seem designed for breaking necks is still allowed to be played.

Maybe this is precisely rugby’s attraction: that it offers relief from a society in which danger is abhorred and safety is idolised. Similarly, the growing appeal of those really scary rollercoasters perhaps satisfies our thirst for risk – or the illusion of it – in a world in which risk has been abolished. Or perhaps rugby’s attraction is that you can drink beer while watching the game.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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