On this day in 1948, the NHS was finally born. It certainly wasn’t an easy birth. Aneurin Bevan, the Minister of Health at the time, had to fight a long and at times bitter battle with a wide range of vested interests both within and outside the medical profession to realise his dream. He was, though, an eloquent and passionate speaker and was able to rally public support for his vision of a universal and comprehensive health care system that would be there for all people, irrespective of income, ‘from the cradle to the grave.’ In many respects, the support and passion for the vision he created has lived on in the generations that followed because, of course, everyone has had their lives touched by the NHS at some point.
One of the most memorable moments of the 2012 London Olympics was the opening ceremony, directed by filmmaker Danny Boyle. He transformed the stadium into a spectacular theatre that focused on the value of the National Health Service (NHS) to generations of British people.
Sadly, though, the dream has become tarnished over the years. Despite the fact that in terms of cost, the NHS spends less per person than most other developed countries, it has continued to be used as a political football, fuelled by the myth that the NHS in its original form is unaffordable. The analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on the 2021 Census, shows that In 2017, the UK spent £2,989 per person on healthcare, which, compared to the G7 group of large, developed economies, was the second-lowest, with the highest spenders being France (£3,737), Germany (£4,432) and the United States (£7,736).
The unaffordability myth has been used to justify the creeping privatisation of many key services which inevitably, because of the very nature of private funding with its focus on extracting profit, has resulted in worsening services. This coupled with the ongoing cuts and underfunding has pushed the NHS into crisis.
So on 75th birthday of the NHS, the latest report from the King’s Fund, an independent think tank published on the 26th June, is particularly worrying. Its research compares the NHS to health care in 19 other countries. It has supported, with evidence, what most of us already know. The NHS is facing a crisis of quality and performance. The report found that the UK has a lower life expectancy, higher mortality rates from major diseases, and fewer doctors and nurses per capita than most of the other countries in the study. It also showed that the UK was underperforming on many indicators of treatable health conditions, such as cancer survival, heart attack, and stroke mortality. The report highlights the impact of years of underinvestment in the infrastructure of the NHS, such as hospitals, beds, scanners, and other equipment and identified the shortage of trained staff as a key factor.
The creation of the NHS was a landmark achievement in the history of British social welfare and health care. It transformed the lives of millions of people, who no longer had to worry about the cost of getting sick or injured. It also fostered a culture of innovation and excellence in medicine, research, and education.
We must ensure that lies, greed, and political short-termism are not allowed to water down and destroy something that was such a force for good and provided a beacon of equality in a deeply unequal society.
So, as the NHS turns 75, three major health and care research institutes have issued a stark warning that continued political short-termism will leave the NHS ‘unlikely to reach its centenary’. The Health Foundation, Nuffield Trust, and The King’s Fund have written to the leaders of England’s three largest political parties stating: “75 years after its creation, the National Health Service is in critical condition. Pressures on services are extreme and public satisfaction is at its lowest since it first began to be tracked 40 years ago. Despite this, public support for the NHS as an institution is rock solid”.
We at Critical Mass believe strongly that when you have spent your life showing just how good you can be, if given the proper level of support, it is wrong on so many levels for a service such as the NHS to be destroyed on the whims of a few powerful individuals. You deserve so much more, and all of us, while we have breath in our bodies, should be fighting for your survival. 75 is just too young to die.
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