Privately, I’m Supporting Our National Health Service
When I was last at my Doctor’s surgery, I was quite taken aback by the number of apparently healthy people queuing stoically – which is another great British pastime, besides visiting the Doctor on a gloomy morning when you’ve nothing better to do – yes, queuing stoically to be seen by some bloke with a stethoscope and a couple of letters after his name before the year ends, and they have to start queuing in the January Sales.
So, I started to wonder where all the actually sick people really were. They’re not at home being sick and waiting patiently (ha, ha) for the bloke with the stethoscope and the letters after his name, that’s for sure; because if you are actually sick and you are registered at the surgery I attend, it can be quite tricky getting a Home Visit off the Doctor unless you’re a. dead or b. expected to demise before the days out and even then, you need proof of your imminent death signed by two other Doctors. Obviously finding two other doctors is going to be akin to scaling Everest in a tee shirt and fluffy carpet slippers because most doctors are busy in the surgery attending to all the healthy people in there.
I have to admit that I have needed Doctors a few times in my life. They dragged one away from a charity golf do, I believe, the day I was born, but that had nothing to do with me other than my imminent desire to introduce myself to the world. I did, however, have the need to call upon a Doctor when I was three weeks old and needed life-saving heart surgery but even then, the surgeon was a visiting South African Cardiac Surgeon so I’m not sure if he actually WAS part of our National Health System, although that did prevent me from imminent death and counter signatories once he’d stuck something inside an artery or a ventricle and turned my heart the right way round (I always was awkward). I was nine months old before I was considered well enough to leave hospital and even be introduced to the wider environs of my family, whom I’m positive were really grateful to the visiting South African Cardiac Surgeon – which is probably why they haven’t spoken to me since. Their loss.
I’ve nearly died twice since then, so I’m proving to be a bit of a nuisance to the NHS I must admit – the first time I developed Pericarditis which unfortunately morphed into the life threatening (tell me about it) Cardiac Tamponade and no, it doesn’t have anything to do with the cost of Tampax or other sanitary products. It’s actually a nasty build up of fluid around the muscles of the heart which put too much pressure on it, causing it not to beat properly and hastening the appearance of two Doctors willing to counter sign your imminent death certificate. So I wasn’t very well and needed life saving surgery again. I am a nuisance.
I continued to be a nuisance insofar as my usage of NHS critical care facilities by almost dying again when I suffered a bit of a haemorrhagic stroke which meant that once again the two Doctors were on standby with a fountain pen and a death certificate and I wasn’t very well for a while.
More recently, I’ve needed a whole team of Doctors while I’ve undertaken a five year battle with Breast Cancer. So, I’ve had more than my fair share of usage out of our NHS, and all that doesn’t even include the bouts of measles, tonsillitis, chicken pox, birth of certain children, one nasty little bout of pneumonia, tripping up on the dog and dislocating both my knees on the way down the stairs, a dislocated shoulder and broken elbow falling out of a tree as a child, the famous ski-ing accident which caused an air ambulance paramedic to faint when he saw my leg and a few bouts of flu here and there. I expect by now those two Doctors wish they’d actually been able to sign that certificate.
Anyway, the point I’m making (if I’m making one at all) is that I got all of this treatment for free. Yes, FREE! Well, okay, if you discount my contributions to National Insurance because a proportion of what I pay into this scheme does actually go to fund the NHS. However, when dear Mr Bevan spearheaded the introduction of the NHS Act in July, 1948 (did you know he was also responsible for Housing as well, and that he was the youngest member of Attlee’s cabinet? Well, you do now.) Anyway, when he got things moving and the NHS creaked into full existence offering its cradle to grave point of need free care for all, it was a rather different animal to what it is now and that’s the problem with the free care it offers.
A recent report (2015) into the cost of the NHS by The Telegraph estimated that it costs £1 billion to run the NHS every three days – one billion pounds. That’s a lot of money – in fact its annual budget of £115 billion is more that New Zealand’s gross domestic product. Hardly surprising as it’s the world’s fifth largest employer with more than 1.3 million people on its payroll.
The trouble with the free care is that when Mr Bevan pushed through the 1946 National Health Service Act, the world was a different place and the challenges of running an organisation that offered free point of need care to everyone, were fundamentally different. Mr Bevan could not have envisaged, for example, the rise in immigration and thus a rise in the number of people needing such care. He could not have foreseen spiralling costs of treatment; the need for greater and more robust administrative and managerial staff to offer back up services to keep the medical staff on the front line; he could not have foreseen that by providing better, and no cost NHS care, people would live longer and consequently, a greater proportion of the population would need more care in later years for longer. There are so many consequences that were simply not addressed by the original format of the NHS (which, incidentally, a lot of those Doctors with the fountain pens objected to at the time) that it was always going to be difficult to keep the horse in the stable, as it were. Nowadays, all successive governments can do is try to keep the costs from bolting.
Is there an easy answer? I personally pay for certain care – I’ll give you a for instance – after the dislocated knees (thank you, dog) whilst my emergency care was NHS, I paid for all the follow on care and for my eighteen months of physiotherapy and all my cortisone injections. I paid for my last operation when the Lumps appeared in my right breast again. I’m paying for cosmetic dental surgery because my teeth have crumbled as a result of chemotherapy.
Is the answer then, for those that can afford to pay to be made to pay? I’m not saying my choice is necessarily the right one, and not everyone can afford to pay. Removing the safety net of free care for everyone is not what I’m advocating, but someone has got to come up with something otherwise the £22 billion funding shortfall estimated by 2020 will only rise and rise and the free care for everyone will be at even greater risk.
Privately, I’m supporting our National Health Service. I wonder how many of those healthy people in my Doctor’s surgery would agree.
© Amy J Steinberg 2017