The Dirty War on the NHS – documentary review

★★★★★

Directed by: #JohnPilger

Written by: #JohnPilger

Starring: #JohnPilger, et al.

Film Review written by: Amber Jackson

“Trust us”


Documentary veteran John Pilger’s new documentary exposes a reality of the NHS that has been previously overlooked or concealed. Presented by Dartmouth Films, The Dirty War on the NHS is a fascinating tribute to a service that is suffering as it is slowly being dismantled by insurance-based companies.


Pilger delves into his own investigation of the UKs beloved National Health Service, providing his audience with harrowing insight into what the future of UK healthcare could become. The film begins with the interweaving of archival footage from the years up until the introduction of the NHS in 1948. Mass poverty, a high infant mortality rate, rampant disease and a class-based healthcare system meant that the public need for medicine sparked the first ever national healthcare system that provided freedom from fear to everyday working people. It was the first of its kind and an inspiration for countries across the world.


Pilger’s film is a warning that this public good could be lost.


What this documentary does differently is that it brings us more up-to-date with healthcare. Candid interviews and discussions with doctors and nurses, both past and present, expose a reality of profit extraction, as market systems and insurance-based companies see the NHS as a financial opportunity, rather than a system of care. Pilger reveals that in 2019, more of the NHS was sold off to private companies than ever before and those within the film shed light on the negative implications of this. Those that share their personal stories do so with such grace and emotion, it is devastating to consider the individual impact. Empathy is the real take-away of each account, with everyday hard-working people being the forerunners of this piece. Pilger creates a window into these people’s lives, allowing them to explain their own narrative, without politics or agenda. The implication is clear – that this could happen to you, the audience, too.


Hard-hitting reality infringes upon every scene, from fears of the NHS becoming a ‘basic service,’ to the impact on patient care when private companies that take over hospitals. The belief is that not enough is being done by those in authority to combat this ‘playing God’ mind-set. Yet, Pilger’s film is politically relevant without being too political. His focus on personal stories and individual impact is incredibly eye-opening and essential viewing at a crucial ‘tipping-point’ in UK politics. Interestingly enough, the one part of the conversation that is not featured in this documentary is Brexit. However, this proves more effective for audiences, as Pilger encourages us to decide for ourselves what we value, based on the facts that he – and his interviewees – provide.


This is a powerful and relevant investigation into national love for the NHS and the desire to see it continue to thrive, instead of diminish. John Pilger has yet again has mastered film-making in forcing his audiences to be part of a necessary conversation and not shy away from reality.


The Dirty War on the NHSis in cinemas now.


#AmberJackson