Happy Birthday to the NHS

Last week the country celebrated the 70th anniversary of the birth of the National Health Service. The mood was jolly at our ‘happy birthday’ street stall in the Calverley Road precinct, where people came and shared birthday cake and their stories about the NHS.

Most of us have been born in and grown up with a health system that is much appreciated and well loved. Few remember what it replaced. Across the country healthcare was provided by a patchwork of voluntary, charitable, local authority and private funded medicine. It largely depended on your income if you got good treatment if you became ill.

The founding of the NHS by a Labour government was hard fought for and fiercely opposed by the Conservatives. It was created from the ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. When launched by Aneurin Bevan, on July 5 1948, it was based on 3 core principles: that it meets the needs of everyone, that is free at the point of delivery, and that it is based on clinical need, not the ability to pay.

All of us have benefited from the NHS and have our personal stories. I was born at home in Tunbridge Wells aided by Nurse Chapman, an NHS midwife, arriving on her bike. I was treated for a life-threatening condition as a baby. I had my tonsils out at the Homeopathic Hospital. I’ve had successful eye treatment and other procedures…… You and your family members will have your own stories.

We count ourselves fortunate that we don’t have to worry about paying for medical treatment at a time when we are sick and vulnerable. We are thankful that staff in the NHS are dedicated, compassionate and remain so good at their jobs despite the pressures that they continue to live under year on year.

But the NHS has been hit hard by government austerity. In May this year there were over 4.2m people on waiting lists for treatment. Last winter more than 186,000 waited with ambulance crews outside A & Es for 30 minutes or more before being admitted. The King’s Fund have said that relative to the size of our population we have some of the worst numbers for doctors, nurses and hospital beds in the western world.

If we want the NHS to retain its position as one of the best healthcare systems most of us agree we have to spend more. The government’s increase of an extra 3.0% a year in the NHS budget over the next 5 years is welcome, but not enough. Labour is committed to increasing the budget by 5% and taking our spending to more than the EU average.

This level of increase would help provide what most commentators say is needed to deal with the needs of the 21st century, including the rising demands of an ageing population and adequate treatment for mental health. Having a well-funded NHS would also be the best present we could give to celebrate its birthday. Happy birthday NHS!

Martin Betts

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