In survey after survey when people are asked what they are most proud about in this country, the NHS comes top or high up for the majority. The love of the institution cuts across all political divides and has an almost religious fervour. It is odd that in this predominantly small c conservative country a socialist idea ranks so highly amongst the common conscious.
Yet our national treasurer is under threat. After twelve years of Tory government it would seem that it is falling apart. I cannot decide whether this is government policy or just incompetence. The NHS has long been a political football and ideologies have got in the way of the more practical issues surrounding the service but chronic underfunding (compared with other equivalent nations), overzealous non-clinical meddling and an obsession with centralisation have all left their toll.
To be fair to the government, the demographics of the nation are completely different from when the NHS was born. We are living much longer and the proportion of people retired is much greater than it was, with the subsequent drop in the proportion of those who have to pay for the service. One of the major issues it is facing is the strains put upon the care system with many beds blocked as there is nowhere for those people to go. Many more illnesses can be treated now and with modern drugs and techniques, the time people need to stay in hospital is much shorter.
Yes, the NHS needs to change and adapt (which of course it is continually) with greater focus given to the whole health and care system. Secondary care cannot be considered independently from primary or social care. They are all parts of the same system and problems in one inevitably lead to problems in another. The concept that healthcare should be free at the point of need remains vital and sacrosanct, however.
It has been suggested that we need to move more towards an insurance based system, as in the United States, yet this is a legerdemain in that we already have one. We pay, through general taxation for the service, irrespective of whether we need it or not. There are swings and roundabouts.
We must be mindful of what is going on. If the NHS is allowed to fail then we will go back to a two tier system where those who can afford private healthcare will, while those that can’t will go without. Ultimately this will cost the country more in lost productivity and increased welfare benefits.
Strangling the NHS is a false economy and we shoudl be carfeul about complaining. It is in the national interest to have a healthy population. Profit should not come before pain.