Cast your minds back to the summer of 2012. London was the host city of the Olympics games, and Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was set to encapsulate our history and the essence of Britishness. The stadium went through the industrial revolution to displays of modern pop culture, but for many one particular part of the ceremony stuck out. The soon to be athletics field became the home of hundreds of hospital beds and dancing nurses, revealing three letters lighting up the stadium – ‘NHS.’
You’d be hard pressed to find an individual who doesn’t hold the National Health Service close to their hearts, and for most of us we cannot imagine a world without it – but is this a reality we may have to face?
In 1948, headed by the then Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan, the Labour Party founded the NHS. In a speech, Bevan stated that it was set up under two basic principles. The first is that healthcare should be made available to people when they need it, irrespective of their ability to pay. And, secondly, that it not be done at the expense of the poorest members of society, but at the expense of the ‘well-to-do.’
Maybe it is the seeming abandonment of the second principle which has seen the NHS on the brink of collapse. A study published in July of this year showed that the poorest fifth of the UK’s population was paying a higher proportion of their income in tax (37.8%) than the richest fifth (34.8%).
As well as this being the result of the regressive VAT tax system, it is also a symptom of the growing culture of tax havens. Estimates ranging from £30bn-£120bn is legally avoided in the UK by big businesses placing their money in tax havens such as Jersey or Monaco. With data showing that in order to be sustained, the NHS must find a further £30bn of funding in the next 5 years, this could technically be paid off 4 times if it weren’t for the tax loopholes which are designed by the tax avoiding companies themselves – I think I can see a conflict of interests. This surge of money would certainly help the NHS in the short term, but throwing money at an inefficient system will just lead to more wasted resources.
Before the Coalition Government’s Health and Social Care Act in 2012, although it had plenty of room for improvement, compared to many other international healthcare systems, the NHS faired well in its cost-effectiveness and was highly rated by patients. But, the first quarter of this year has seen a £930 million overspend in the NHS, more than the total overspend of last year. Which can almost certainly be put down in part to a growing bureaucracy within the health service and its inefficient use of resources.
Some critics of the Conservative party go as far as to say that these reforms and the increasingly ‘top-down’ approach of NHS organisation has all been a way to introduce more privatisation within the Health Service, selling certain assets off to their wealthy donors.
Whatever the case, the NHS is facing a crisis it may not be able to deal with. Chronic underfunding, or at least inefficient use of funding, coupled with an ageing population who face new and more complex conditions than have ever had to be faced in such large quantities. The effects of this crisis are already widespread: the strike action over the new contracts for Junior Doctors, lack of beds, unmet waiting times, and an inability to create parity of service for those suffering from mental health conditions.
And maybe the most worrying part of it all is the crumbling of the principles of the NHS. Once these fall, the whole structure comes down with it. A recent announcement has blown the biggest strike the foundations of our health service has ever withstood. Plans from the Health Secretary to charge foreign patients upfront for emergency treatments threatens the core value of ‘free at the point of use.’
Jeremy Hunt, a man one letter short of living up to his name, wants foreign patients to hand over their money whilst hopping on their one unbroken leg. Almost all non-emergency treatments already require extra charges for non-EU citizens, but apparently this is not enough, once again the burden of funding must be placed on the poor and vulnerable, rather than at the expense of the wealthy. This plan will surely save some money, but with estimates of saving £500 million a year, not even enough to make up for the spending of the first quarter of this year alone, are we really going to sacrifice our principles of equality and humanity, just so the Tories can continue to dismantle our NHS beyond all recognition?
It is very noble of our government to take emergency services (which by definition are services which are needed in order to keep a human healthy and able) away from foreign patients to save a few hundred million, whilst making sure their mates can place their billions on any unpopulated, low-tax island they want, and also giving them first dibs when services are privatised.
We all take so much pride in the NHS not because it’s cost effectiveness, but for one simple reason. It is a statement; a statement that all human life is precious no matter your creed, colour, religion, age, gender, nationality, rich or poor, we are to be all treated with equal dignity and respect. This is a statement, which although spoken of everywhere in the nation, has only been so purely manifested in the NHS.
No amount of political play, economic scaremongering and the like should ever make us throw away something so undoubtedly beautiful.