It was on 5 July 1948 that Labour’s health minister Nye Bevan greeted the NHS’s very first patient, in Park Hospital, in Greater Manchester. But it’s a Labour myth that the NHS was Bevan’s “creation”.
In fact back then, all the political parties agreed on the vital need for a free national health - and welfare and education - service, after the devastation of the war. They were terrified of a backlash from the working class soldiers returning from their bloody killing fields.
So the NHS blueprint was already worked out in 1942, by the Liberal William Beveridge - and the plan was launched in embryo during the war, by the Conservative Henry Willink. But even later under Bevan, it was never fully adequate.
Today of course, the Conservative and Liberal progeny of Beveridge and Willink have no qualms over ending the “Welfare State”, a process which Thatcher set into full motion in the 1980s. Indeed, their 2011 Health and Social Care Act was designed to put the final nail in the NHS coffin.
So Theresa May’s “70th birthday party” for the NHS this week was, if nothing else, an act of gross hypocrisy.
She claimed last month that her funding for the NHS would not be a “mere sticking plaster”. But that is all that the one-off £20bn increase to this year’s budget is. Let alone her promise to increase spending to £135bn... by 2023-4, that is, 5 years time!
Everybody knows that this increase of 3.4% will, at the most, only maintain current - inadequate - service levels, given inflation (RPI=3.3%) and the huge deficit which has left the NHS so chronically sick and emaciated!
Unnecessary, or unprofitable?
But worse, the very next thing we hear is that NHS England plans to “save money” by cutting 17 procedures which it deems “unnecessary or risky”! Even though this would save just £200m a year, that is 0.17% of the whole NHS budget!
Of course, this is not yet done. And time and again, we have heard that “minor” procedures will be banned. In fact patients have already had to join long waiting lists for surgery for piles or varicose veins, even though these conditions can result in serious complications.
So, looking at the list given today, including varicose veins and haemorrhoids, but also tonsillectomy, carpal tunnel and trigger finger release, removal of non-cancerous skin lesions, injections for back pain, etc., among other extremely common conditions, it’s quite obvious that these are neither “unnecessary” nor “futile” procedures! Quite the opposite.
Indeed, it seems that the real agenda is the very same one which has opened the NHS to private profit already - only this time, patients are to be driven out of the hospitals and into the private sector directly, if they are to get the full use of their backs, hands, legs, arms, throats and anuses back! Yes, this can only bolster profits even further, for the private health sharks!
In the same way, patients are going to have to buy yet more of their medicines, previously prescription only, over the counter. With the prices suitably increased... Good for the pharmacies and good for the pharmaceutical industry... Never mind how bad for patients!
Forget brexit, prioritise a free NHS!
Of course, everybody, including Theresa May and her health minister, Jeremy Hunt, has to admit that the NHS has deteriorated. And that it has got even worse since the Brexit vote in 2016, when staff from the EU started leaving, or failed to arrive. They will also admit that the problems in the NHS are long-standing.
But today the situation is critical. Yes, the NHS might allow everyone to come through its doors - as long as they prove they are “British”, and never mind that there would be no NHS, if not for the “non-British”! But once through its doors, it “underperforms” 18 other comparable developed countries. It was worse than average in diagnosing and treating heart attacks, breast cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic, lung and rectal cancer. In other words, some of the most common causes of death!
As this survey points out, it is an “exaggeration” to say that the “NHS is the envy of the world”. It has fewer beds, nurses, doctors, CT and MRI scanners than any comparable country.
So, what is to be done? The health and social care systems have to be revived and rebuilt as a priority, way above Brexit, with its endless time-consuming bickering and in-fighting! The working class, as a whole, easily has the strength to force the issue - and push it to the top of the agenda. And to then ensure that once and for all, we all get the health system we need.