So this month you may have started noticing lots of posts about the NHS and how this year it turns 70. The celebrations will certainly be going on in my hospital! Well today I wanted to pay homage to this amazing entity, and look at how life is so much better for it’s existence.
I also asked readers of The Female Money Doctor blog to share with me their NHS stories and suggestions for how we can support this amazing system to keep it running for another 70 years.
P.S. There is a tear jerker at the end, so don’t forget the tissues!
But First, A Bit of History
The NHS opened it’s doors for the first time in 1948 on 5th July as part of many post second world war social reforms. The NHS was the brain-child of Aneurin Bevan, a Labour party member who was the minister of health back then, and who deeply felt that healthcare should be free for everyone who needs it at the point of use.
The collective principle asserts that… no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.
— Aneurin Bevan, In Place of Fear, p. 100
What an amazing concept! Here was a nation still hurting from two world wars, and the idea that healthcare should be available to all, rather than a privileged few is introduced. Can you imagine the difference this would have made to public moral?
Fast forward just 70 years, and the NHS is providing more than ever, but at what cost? And how long can it last?
Is the NHS struggling with modern demands?
There has been so much focus and bad press on it lately with reports of under-funding and all it’s problems that it’s easy to see that the NHS is literally on death’s door.
But yet, it lives on through the people who make it work day-in, day-out.
The NHS back in 1948 would have had very different demands on it than it does now. As medicine grows ever more sophisticated, and the population increases, so do the costs. The NHS in England alone deals with over 1 million patients every 36 hours.
When the NHS was launched in 1948, it had a budget of £437 million (roughly £15 billion at today’s value). In 2015/16, the overall NHS budget was around £116.4 billion. NHS England is managing £101.3 billion of this.
Healthcare is expensive business! And because we don’t pay up front, we don’t see how much the true costs really are.
And yet time marches on, and technology improves. But if no more money goes into the system, how can it be expected to fund the latest treatments or even retain staff?
What has the NHS given us?
Everyone likes to have a gripe and a whinge about the NHS – we’re English, so it’s part of our genetic make up to moan! But are we missing the point?
The NHS has given us a HUGE amount to be grateful for.
- You will be seen for free by a healthcare professional no matter how much money you have in the bank
- Having a baby is no longer expensive and unsafe
- Cancer treatments are not reserved for the wealthy and are becoming increasingly more tailored for the kind of cancer someone has
- Imaging is freely available
- We can see a family doctor without having to pay
- If we need urgent care, we will receive it, no matter what time of day
- The NHS will pay for your subscriptions if you can’t afford it, or if you meet certain criteria (in all other parts of the UK, prescriptions are free for everyone)
- Contraception is FREE!
I could go on….but I think you get the point.
What would life be like without it?
We can so easily look at other countries and think that we have it bad. But we are looking through rose tinted glasses – other countries have problems of their own!
For example, in many countries, you can see a specialist without going via a GP. On the surface this looks good, and appears to save time, and it would if you, as the lay-person pick the right specialist. Often though, conditions mimic other conditions, and this could mean you pick the wrong specialist and you are delayed in getting to the actual diagnosis. Not so bad if this is something benign, but DISASTROUS if you have cancer.
Lack of general practitioners (or family doctors) also can mean that the organisation of your care is shambolic. Think about it – if we had a system that didn’t have a family doctor coordinating our care, there is no one to lead what’s going on. Specialists focus on their own areas and wouldn’t really know how to advise you properly on anything else.
GPs are vital in that not only do they get you seen by appropriate specialists, they have a bit of knowledge of a lot of areas, and can coordinate things all the way through the process of diagnosis and treatment.
Not to mention that they save the NHS HUGE amounts of money and are the ENVY of the world.
And who said that spending more money means better healthcare? In it’s 2014 report, the commonwealth fund released a jaw-dropping infographic about the performance of many healthcare systems across the world.
The NHS scored the highest ranking of all of the systems (and was the cheapest), and it was only marked down for timeliness. Not too shabby if you ask me!
Not only that, many insurance-based healthcare systems have a disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. If you have basic insurance, the company may not even cover you for everything you need, meaning that it comes out of your own pocket.
This can lead to large debts spiraling out of control, compounding the problem and making an individual’s health even worse.
Just imagine what life would be like without the NHS.
Why we need to continue to support our NHS
With our lifestyle costs already at breaking point, and with income failing to keep pace, can we really afford to add in health insurance as well? Without the NHS we would need to be self-funding, and our level of cover will depend on what we can afford, and how much “risk” the insurance company thinks we are as individuals.
If you can’t afford insurance, or it doesn’t quite cover what you need, you may have the difficult choice of keeping yourself healthy or keeping a roof over your head.
At a time of great stress anyway, money should be the least of your concerns.
What can we do to help?
The good news is that the NHS is not done yet! There are many things I think you can do to show your support.
Suggestions from readers (with my input) included:
- Show gratitude to staff – every single member of the NHS works incredibly hard every day under very stressful conditions. Take the time to write in a compliment letter or tag your hospital in a supportive tweet to tell them they are doing a fabulous job! (I can confirm: It honestly makes our day more than a box of choccies does – although they are lovely too!!)
- Buy your own medicines when you don’t need a prescription. For example, a woman brought her daughter to A&E a few months ago after she had sprained her ankle. Despite me telling her to buy paracetamol and ibuprofen for pennies over the counter, I was met with abuse and asked why I had wasted her time by not providing free paracetamol. This is sooooo not cool.
- Talk to your pharmacist in the first instance. They’re great at helping you solve problems, and can give you tips on picking cheap alternatives to do the same job!
- Practice self-care and preventative medicine. Eat well most of the time, exercise when you can, drink in moderation and stop smoking! This will improve your overall health and stop you seeing a doctor in the first place!
- Use services appropriately – is your ear-ache really an A&E problem or can it wait for your GP? Can your friends not look after you when you’re pissed?
- If you expect to be seen and treated quickly, then perhaps you should buy private health insurance. This is a controversial topic I know, but it makes sense. If you grumble that your knee surgery, physiotherapy, psychiatry or GP appointment is taking too long, or the latest techniques are not available to you, then really you should seek to go private OR STOP COMPLAINING. I can hear you saying “it shouldn’t be necessary”, and I agree with you, but this is the current state of affairs I’m afraid, so if you want rapid elective attention, then pay for it, or deal with it (or see my last point).
- Write as many complaint letters as you want to Jeremy Hunt directly – because after all, he has overall responsibility, NOT the individuals battling to keep the NHS afloat every day.
Our NHS turns 70, but it’s not retired yet. While Aneurin Bevan’s spirit lives on, the people who make up the NHS will continue to work hard keeping it together so that we can all enjoy free healthcare at the point of use.
But before I leave, I want you to read one more quote from a reader that quite literally got me reaching for the tissues.
I love the nhs because anyone who has the compassion and guts to shatter hearts by having to say the words to an expecting mother “I’m sorry there’s no heartbeat” deserves a medal. or for the midwives to support that mother in giving birth to silence, Helping her to see that her child is still a gift, supporting her in spending time with her precious baby, making memories, loving her child, cuddling her child in the few hours they will have together they are angels. My bereavement midwife helping a mum find the strength to walk away from half her heart and her baby, mine took every step with me, she was there for months afterwards day and night. She was there when we felt strong enough to try again. She came to every appointment with my son. She arranged emergency scans for when I was so panicky I could hardly breathe for my reassurance. She discussed his birth at length with me to get him here safe as he was breech and my anxiety was overwhelming me. She would have been at his birth too if my son had have waited for his scheduled section date (instead he ended up two days earlier after my waters broke in the middle of the night). She was there though to walk me out the door with my son fit and healthy which might seem silly but for me was so meaningful as it felt like I’d come full circle and beat my demons
Without the amazing people in the nhs not only would I not have had my eyes opened to the gift of my daughter I would have the bravery to have had my son or the gift of raising him.
And on that note, my post has come to an end, but let’s hope the NHS goes on for another 70 years so our children and grandchildren can enjoy it too.
Long Live Our NHS!
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