THE AILING NHS AND WHY WE CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT IT
By Alex Beard
What is perhaps the greatest institution, the greatest idea even, ever to be established in Britain - the National Health Service - is under existential threat greater than any it has ever faced after 2017's 'Winter Crisis' and the continued occupation of office of Health Secretary by Jeremy Hunt.
The NHS began operations in 1948, under Britain’s first Labour government - led by Clement Attlee - as a result of the 1942 Beveridge Report, the devastation of the Second World War and the appointment of the socialist and miner's son Aneurin Bevan as Health Secretary.
The founding principles of the service were ideals that keep it going today - to provide medical care to people who need it regardless of their ability to pay. As Bevan himself put it, "no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means". Despite introducing charges for certain procedures and facilities only years after its foundation, the NHS has survived and remained free at the point of use since its creation almost 70 years ago.
It is of immense importance not only thanks to the pivotal role it plays in the health of almost everyone in the country (you don't need numerical values to appreciate the number of babies delivered, cancer patients treated etc.) but also the way it levels the playing field, removing from worse-off families, who often have more medical concerns, the burden of having to pay for treatment or medication they can't do without for conditions that likely aren't their fault.
One of the ostensibly more obvious human rights (as stated by the UN Declaration of Human Rights) is the 'right to life' - civilised societies have a responsibility to ensure that this most fundamental human right is upheld, regardless of one's ability to pay for medical insurance - this is not to mention the humanitarian argument.
If the 20th Century politicians and the United Nations aren't enough to convince you of the NHS's importance to the health service, one of its most vehement proponents is Professor Stephen Hawking - kept alive, cared for and treated for years by NHS nurses and doctors, the physicist claimed he "would not be here without the NHS" and detailed his worries about its future, attacking the current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
It's hard to think that such a hallowed institution, that almost all politicians - even the UKIP ones (remember Paul Nuttall?) - wouldn't dare speak ill of, had such an uncertain future but chronic underfunding, an ageing population, poor working conditions and the new threat that Brexit poses to NHS staff, mean we are edging ever closer to a private model.
The Service's main problem is that whilst people are living longer, they're not necessarily getting any healthier; rising obesity rates (some of the highest in the world) and newly emerging 'superbugs' are just some of the ever-growing array of issues to deal with, meaning that more money has to be spent on drugs and treatments - funds are not being increased at a level that matches this.
The staff - some of the most hard working and dedicated people in the country - are overworked and under-resourced and, despite having had to work for longer and under more pressure, have seen a real-terms pay cut since the Conservatives took power in 2010. Jeremy Hunt himself has shown no compassion in dealing with medical professionals - refusing to offer junior doctors, who play quite literally a vital role in medical care, better working conditions.
The so-called 2017/2018 'Winter Crisis' shows to what extent the NHS has been pushed - people were left in trollies thanks to a shortage of beds, doctors were working without breaks and specialist doctors responsible for specific areas of practice and hadn't practiced generally for years were pulled onto A&E wards to plug the gap. The Guardian even reported that student medics who hadn't even qualified were made to practice in some of the worst-hit hospitals.
Pointless and expensive 'reorganisations' of specific NHS trusts deemed to be failing have proved to be a colossal waste of what little money and resources the Health Service has and have done nothing to improve the organisation as a whole - instead of trying to make the service run more effectively on the inadequate amount of money it already has, the government should put more into the NHS - many polls indicate that people would be happy to pay more in tax if it meant preserving the NHS.
Blaming the NHS's problems on immigration is fruitless and frankly ridiculous, too. Apart from being part of a more xenophobic trend in politics, this myth can be solved by looking no further than any NHS ward, where rather than finding a sea of 'health tourists', you'll see EU-born doctors and nurses with invaluable skills, working incredibly hard to keep us alive. Brexit will naturally have a catastrophic impact on this, unless a workable solution can be found - already the number of new European nurses joining the NHS has fallen by 90% since the referendum.
Finally, Jeremy Hunt, whose views are fundamentally contradictory to the founding principles of the NHS and those of most of the country and who has proven himself, as the 2014 Junior Doctors' Strikes show, the enemy of the health service's hard-working employees, must be removed from office.
Theresa May's recent reshuffle would have been the perfect time to dispense of a man who has no medical experience, has shown himself to be unable to compromise with or defend those on whom the Health Service relies, and in 2005 co-authored a publication called "Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party", which laid out the case for the NHS to be replaced with an insurance-based system.
His wish to introduce 'accountable care organisations' later this year are a further example of outsourcing which reflects his hope to privatise the health service, something which countless individuals, including Stephen Hawking, have spoken out against, and which would see Britain stripped of the institution we should be most proud of.