Rising prescription prices, lack of nurses, bed shortages, over budget and no money in the NHS. Just a few reasons why our National Health Service is hitting the headlines in the media. From the way it is portrayed, it is every patients nightmare, right? Well, I disagree. I know that the NHS has problems, mainly due to lack of funds, an ever increasing population and people living longer with more complex medical conditions. Currently, ‘saving the NHS’ is a big topic in the upcoming general election, with all parties promising to make changes and improvements to save the day. I am no politician and am not here to suggest changes to the NHS, the deficit or the budget, I just want to remind people of a few fundamental things….
Our wonderful National Health Service is free, you are not billed for the service you are given or the treatment you receive, it is funded by taxation! The NHS was born 5th July 1948 by Health Secretary Aneurin Bevans, who opened Park Hospital in Manchester. It was the climax of the hugely ambitious plan to bring healthcare to all. Hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians, physiotherapists and many other health care professionals bought together under one umbrella organisation to provide services that are free for all at the point of delivery. It had three core principles – to meet the needs of everyone, to be free at the point of delivery and to be based on clinical need not ability to pay. This year our NHS will turn 67!
There is a lot of negativity about the NHS and I am not sure that people realise the huge variety of services that the NHS offers so here’s a little reminder… We all know about our emergency services; dialling 999, being seen by paramedics in your home, ambulance control, first responders and A&E. Most of us know about the services available to us when something is not quite so urgent; 111 service who will give medical advise 24 hours a day and tell you if you need to go to hospital, your GP, walk in centres and pharmacists who will recommend which medications you may need. There are extensive maternity services, social services and care at home and not forgetting health promotion services such as smoking cessation, sexual health and alcohol advice – all free at the point of care. I think a lot of us are probably guilty of thinking of health care for the bigger things like accidents, operations, an unwelcome diagnosis, conditions that need input but there are also all those little things that we take for granted – free contraception, blood pressure monitoring, a little infection that needs a few antibiotics… it all comes under the NHS umbrella.
Talking of the bigger things in health care… the organ donor register. This was launched in 1994 following a five-year campaign by John and Rosemary Cox, whose son died of a brain tumour. He had asked for his organs to be used to help others. The Coxes said that there should be register for people who wished to donate. Over 20 years later and this register now holds details of over 16.5 million people across the UK – amazing! Any patient needing a life saving, donated organ, for whatever reason, be it lungs, heart, liver, kidneys or any other body part will receive this on the NHS as long as the correct organ becomes available. Those needing blood transfusions, platelets or even bone marrow transplants are also taken care of, again, all on the NHS.
Just think about that word that we all dread hearing – cancer! How many services are we provided with to check that we don’t have cancer? Cervical smears and mammograms for us ladies. You hope and pray that everything comes back normal and you can carry on with your daily lives. In the heartbreaking situation that everything is not as it should be, you may need surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, more frequent monitoring after treatment is finished. Just try to imagine living in a country where you have to pay to check that you do not have something sinister trying to take hold? What if you don’t get checked, or can’t afford to get checked, what if you never find out? What if you had something which could so easily have been spotted early and stopped if you’d only known? It doesn’t bare thinking about, does it?
I believe that in the UK we are incredibly privileged to have our NHS. It is not the case in other countries! Everything that I have mentioned, big or small, is available to us and I feel that we are very lucky to be able to access this level of healthcare without being charged. In other countries, if someone needs a donated organ, they have to have health insurance but first they have to be accepted by an insurance company willing to cover them. Easier said than done when you have a life threatening condition which could end up costing the insurance company a lot of money. People really are being denied life saving organ transplants, not because the donor organs are not available, but because of a lack of money and insurance! Patients, who are fighting for their lives by the time they need a donated organ, are setting up ‘gofundme’ pages pleading people to help raise money for the treatment and operation that will save their life. This, quite simply, would not happen in this country!
Over my 30 years, I have been a patient, I have had operations and hospital admissions and have visited our walk in centres to receive treatment and medication. My husband has the genetic condition Cystic Fibrosis, a debilitating, life threatening, progressive condition which leads many patients to needing a double lung transplant. He manages to keep fairly well but uses the NHS for regular monitoring of his condition. I, and many of my friends and colleagues, are nurses who have all worked for many years caring for patients using the NHS.
I know that the public get despondent with the NHS. As nurses we are regularly on the receiving end of some unhappy customers but please, please try to remember just how privileged we are. Yes, prescription prices are rising frequently, if you need to see your GP, you usually have to wait 2-3 weeks before you can get an appointment, if you have to attend A&E, unless you are in need of immediate, life-saving care, yes, you probably will have to wait for hours until you are seen. Doctors and nurses are always busy, the wards are frequently short staffed and staff are exhausted by the end of their shift. But please, stop for a moment and answer these questions…
Have you ever been acutely ill? Did you use the NHS? Have you seen a loved family member or friend desperately unwell? I am pretty sure we can all answer yes to these questions. The NHS may not be exactly what we want it to be but I assure you, everyone in it, is doing their absolute best to give you and your loved ones the best possible care by dressing your wounds, to easing your pains and saving your life.
I, for one, am incredibly grateful that we have our NHS as a nurse, as a loving wife and as a member of the public who could end up being a vulnerable, scared patient in hospital needing to use the NHS at any point in my life.
Thank you NHS for everything you have done, for saving lives and giving hope.