Oh, where to start.
The NHS isn’t perfect and it never promised to be but I’m sure there aren’t many who would disagree that it’s founding principles of free health care for all, regardless of background and circumstance, are principles worth holding on to.
All the main political parties, at each and every election, can be depended upon to roll out their pledges to take care of our NHS . . . that it’s safe in their hands. Well they would do. It’s nothing less than what the British electorate demand. But anyone who can remember New Labour’s 1997 election pledges will be forgiven for feeling deceived as they watched the huge expansion of the NHS market culture that has since followed.
As both an NHS employee and an NHS user, I’m going to comment on both aspects.
I can remember a time, not that many years ago, when NHS employees felt secure and comforted in the knowledge that they had a “job for life”. As a nurse I thought my skills and dedication would always be needed. The NHS taught me my skills and I was/am more than willing to repay the health service with hard work and committed loyalty. But lordy, how things have changed. Even within the couple of decades that I’ve worked for the NHS, the industry (and I use that word deliberately) has grown into a cut-throat and semi-corporatised ruthless employer. There is no such thing as a job for life anymore and no-one is indispensable. This isn’t wrong in itself let me stress, but it’s hard to keep morale high when top-level managerial posts are being created from nowhere – with no apparent use, while decent frontline workers are losing their positions and individual departments are having to make immense cut backs which affect the service they are able to offer. As tax-payers, we really shouldn’t be too happy. The bosses and the politicians assure us there’s no buddy nepotism going on and that it’s all necessary if the NHS is to survive and meet the country’s healthcare needs so it all gets very bewildering.
In contrast, as a user of the NHS, I simply can’t fault it. I’ve had the misfortune to need it’s services quite regularly these last five years and, as many patients say to me . . . where would we be without these places . . . so it is. I’m acutely aware that there are many who’ve had bad experiences of the NHS, some with tragic results. And when neglect has been the cause, there is no excuse and the NHS should be held accountable. But the NHS struggles to keep up with continuing medical advances and increasing longevity, not to mention the continuous changes in health care policy which adds to the frustration (and the bureaucracy) and it’s difficult to keep up.
But it’s not impossible and for all its faults and weaknesses, no-one has ever been turned away from the NHS on account of the inability to pay. And I’ve yet to see someone refused treatment because their insurance policy didn’t cover it. We only have to compare our NHS to the American system to know which system we should be committed to.
Overall, the NHS service, I’d say, is easily one of the best in the world in spite of privatisation creeping in through the back door by way of PFI and PPP initiatives. Yep, characteristically, I simply can’t talk about the NHS without including a rant about privatisation – although expect more of a whimper these days. Once upon a time, not that many moons ago, Militant Millie here was dead set against any form of privatisation within the NHS but recently much of my passion has been replaced by despondency. I am still against it in principle though. There’s something ever so distasteful about profiteering from ourhealth but it’s not just about being anti-capitalist for the sake of it. Private firms are being subsidised by our taxes. They are making huge profits and still, NHS departments across the country are having to make cutbacks that affect the services they are able to offer. Ultimately, the NHS is becoming increasingly dependent on privatisation and although some would argue that if the NHS is one of the best and most admired systems in the world, then surely this is evidence that privatisation is actually working, we’ve yet to realise the full extent of PFI successes or failures and we’ve already seen some humongous PFI disasters in our public services.
So to round this up, I personally believe it’s time that Gordon Brown stopped dismantling the system that he claims to be so proudly defending. He should give up his wasteful PFI baby and should start nuturing a democratically managed and fully-funded public NHS.
The NHS is controversial and emotional and it’s far from perfect. But it never discriminates and it’s always there for us. So it’s with thanks and celebration that I wish the NHS a very happy 60th birthday . . . and many, many Happy Returns.