Thoughts on the NHS on the occasion of its 70th Birthday

Last summer I was in hospital for 23 nights, some of it on the critical care ward. I was discharged on the eve of the NHS’s 70th birthday in July. I recorded my thoughts a few days after a few days at home:

23 days later. And I’m out of hospital and recuperating away from the joy of the ward, noisy night rounds, upset patients and airless rooms on hot, hot days.

I wish the NHS a happy 70th. It remains a noble idea and the treatment I received, at no expense to me at the point of delivery, was excellent. The NHS is a noble principle. The best of the staff are world class professionals delivering way beyond expectations. The NHS is held together by the sheer force of their will and our belief in an ideal.

But as a nation we are being dishonest with ourselves about the future of the NHS. It cannot persist in its current form and the funding mechanisms cannot sustain it. We need, as a nation like in response to the Beveridge report, reassess what we want from an NHS.

Labour and Tory narratives are both deceitful and misleading. The Tories are wrong to seek almost universal privatisation and yet Labour are also wrong to oppose it wholesale. Different providers can cheerfully coexist and serve patients. And that can include private companies, coops, third sector and community interest companies etc. Labour must also stop being so proprietorial over the NHS. Yes. A Labour achievement. The party’s greatest. But it doesn’t own the NHS. For the majority of 70 years we’ve had Conservative govts and the NHS is still here.

And funding. Yup, we pay in. You may pay in a lot. You may feel you pay too much. But you likely don’t pay in anywhere near enough. See also state pensions and adult social care.

So I thank the NHS for my life, its love and the care her staff have given me and the 70 years so far as our British civic religion and national touchstone. But big brains, and big hearts, and shrewd people need to work out how we can say the same in 70 years time.

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