Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Celebrating 70 years of the NHS

My article in today’s Cornish Guardian is about the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service. It was as follows;

On 5th July 1948, the Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan launched the National Health Service at Manchester’s Park Hospital.

It is well reported that Bevan symbolically met the NHS’s “first patient,” a 13-year-old girl called Sylvia Diggory. She later recalled: “Mr Bevan asked me if I understood the significance of the occasion and told me that it was a milestone in history – the most civilised step any country had ever taken.”

The fundamental principles behind the new health service were clear. The NHS would be “available to all” and “financed entirely from taxation,” meaning that “people pay into it according to their means.” And in his seminal 1952 publication, In Place of Fear, Bevan himself wrote, that: “No society can legitimately call itself civilized if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.”

It is frankly not possible to overstate the significance of the NHS and how, over the last seventy years, universal healthcare has transformed the lives of millions and millions of people.

Writing a few years ago, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown summed up how “Bevan’s vision has stood both the test of time and the test of change unimaginable in his day … surviving, growing and adapting to technological and demographic change” while still being at the “centre of the life of our nation as a uniquely British creation, and a uniquely powerful engine of social justice.”

Seven decades on, it is so important that we celebrate the NHS, described by many people as the United Kingdom’s greatest achievement.

But looking forward, there is a desperate need to build a strong political consensus about how the National Health Service can continue to serve the people of the United Kingdom into the future.

Over the last few years, the NHS has been a permanent fixture in the news. It has not all been good news with concerns about the lack of hospital beds in numerous areas, inappropriate pressure on junior doctors, the pressing need to better link health care with social care and, not least, the ongoing NHS funding crisis.

Political arguments abound and it has been widely welcomed that the Prime Minister has pledged to increase annual funding for the NHS to £135bn by 2023-24, a £20 billion increase on the present year’s budget. But even the head of the Government’s own National Audit Office has stated that much more money is needed.

It seems to me that all political parties need to come together to develop a truly progressive taxation system, that raises sufficient resource to provide vital public services, with big business and the well-off paying their fair share.