The Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan's, criticism of the NHS seems to have unleashed a bout of patriotism in the UK, at least if we judge it by the media reporting of the massive "twittering" response. But relatively few people use twitter so is this really a good measure of public opinion, or is it more a reflection of how the media can hype up the impact of new technology?
Representative opinion polls, which capture the opinions of those offline and online, shows unequivocaly the strong public support for the NHS. A poll by Ipsos MORI for Unison, released this week, shows that more than three quarters of the British public (77%) believe that "the NHS is crucial to British society and we must do everything to maintain it" in comparison to thinking that "the NHS was a great project but we probably can't maintain it in its current form (22% of the public agree). Few institutions, in Brtain at least, enjoy such widespread public support. Even support for the Monarchy trails that of the NHS, as this trend data shows (around seven in ten people wish Britain to remain as a Monarchy).
Indeed, a survey conducted in 1999 found that the NHS was seen by far the most important achievement of the 20th century by the British public - more so than the establishment of the welfare state, winning the 2nd world war or even the introduction of universal suffrage. It would take a brave - or in David Cameron's words an "eccentric" British politician - to argue the NHS was a mistake and a relic of the past.
Yet despite the widespread support for the NHS now and the evident pride in its achievements over the past 60 years, almost half (47%) the public do not think it will exist in 50 year's time. Two in five people (40%) also don't expect Britain to have a Monarchy in 50 year's time... if they are right the Britain of the 21st century could be very different from the last one....