London 2012 Olympic
Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Reuters

One of the most controversial aspects of the London Olympic opening ceremony (i.e. amid the slavering adulation a few people questioned it) was the way that the NHS was literally given centre stage for a good 20 minutes or so of the show.

Sun on Sunday columnist and free school campaigner Toby Young said of the ceremony as a whole that it was a "£27 million party political broadcast for the Labour Party", while Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday asked "What sort of country has a hospital bed as a symbol of national pride?"

Speaking for myself when I heard that the NHS was to feature in the opening ceremony I thought it was ludicrous. One might as well celebrate the fact that as a nation we also have fire brigades, railway lines and tourist information centres.

Alas I was not aware at that time that the celebration of the NHS would actually verge on cultish adoration, with the three sacred letters practically written in flame in the middle of the Olympic stadium (by the way it would be interesting to know how many of Britain's athletes who won gold in that very stadium use the NHS rather than private health care to keep their bodies in top condition).

Those on the left often claim that the Evil Tories (of which I am not one) hate the NHS and are constantly making dastardly schemes to destroy it, thus allowing the downtrodden to die on the streets.

This is foolish. I for one do not hate the NHS but nor do I love it. In the past the NHS has provided me with a very good service in some areas and yet I've also had to deal with much more negative experiences. The same is also true of many people up and down the land no doubt.

No it's not the NHS I hate but the weird and intolerant cult that has grown up around it. Nigel Lawson spoke no truer words when he said that the NHS was the closest thing the English have to a religion.

The followers of this bizarre faith apparently hold a number of truths to be self-evident, despite the fact that most of these truths are easily disproved. The first of these dogmas is that "There is no health service but the NHS and Bevan is its prophet".

Well Bevan may have been the prophet but despite the NHS allegedly being the envy of the world there are many developed nations which do not have its equivalent and yet somehow the bubonic plague has been held at bay. Some of these systems are no doubt worse than the NHS but some (whisper when you say it) might actually be better. The point however is that other systems are available and some of them even work.

The second and even more ludicrous article of faith is that the NHS is "free". Well it is free if you don't work or avoid paying taxes, but for the rest of the population a large chunk of their income is taken away from them as a kind of compulsory tithe in order fund this "free healthcare" whether they make use of it or not.

Perhaps one day the British nation will be able to shake itself free from this strange enchantment but until that time it seems unlikely that we'll be able to look at NHS as we do any other public service and see what it does well and where it is found wanting.