What would we do without the NHS?

Our family has used the NHS more this year than ever before – all five of us have seen consultants for a range of ailments.

Yesterday my husband saw the Haematology team to be told his cancer was in remission. We left the hospital grateful for the good prognosis, and thankful that we lived in a country with high-quality health care. Over the course of his treatment, from hospital stays to bone marrow biopsies, from chemotherapy to scans, we have been impressed with the professionals overseeing his care. We have not been made bankrupt through high medical bills and he had time off work for his recovery. It was horrendous and worrying, but the NHS was there for us.

However, lack of government funding means that not everyone is getting the same quality of care we have experienced. Recent stories in the papers highlight the shortfall now being experienced by many hospital trusts. There was a combined overspend of around £850 million by ten NHS hospital trusts in England in 2018. Funding per patient has been cut year by year since 2010.

The data is harrowing. Whilst my husband had a good experience with his cancer treatment, the statistics show many others do not.

Four of the cancer waiting-time standards were failed: two-week GP referral to first outpatient appointment; 14-day referral to first outpatient – breast symptoms; 62-day (urgent GP referral) waiting time target for first treatment; and 62-day screening from service referral.

These waiting times didn’t apply in the same way to us as my husband was hospitalised with a severe infection and in trying to figure out the cause of the infection, cancer was found. But for those being referred by GPs for outpatient appointments, the delay of treatment and the extended worry whilst waiting for an appointment adds even more stress to the uncertainty one experiences before receiving a diagnosis.

Staff shortfalls are affecting quality – the most recent figures show 100,000 staff vacancies across the medical professions, with 11% of nursing jobs vacant. Lib Dems are calling for reinstatement of nursing bursaries – the need to train sufficient staff is now more urgent than ever. Current staff are doing as much as they can do, but they are only human and there will be limits to what the NHS can offer if there are not enough staff to provide services.

The NHS is one of the bedrocks of British society – it needs proper funding and should not be allowed to fail. Providing good health care to all citizens is one way we tackle inequality – and all of us, at one time or another, will rely on the NHS.

* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com.

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10 Comments

  • Many people might be surprised to realise the limited role healthcare systems play in the overall outcome of a population’s health. Individual choices and individual genetics play a far larger role than healthcare.

    Even breaking down a healthcare system into components, about half the benefits come from the public health wing (vaccinations, public sanitation, health promotion, health protection), with primary care and mental health providing the the bulk of the remaining benefits. Secondary and tertiary care (hospitals and specialist hospitals) swallow the bulk of spending but do provide pitiful returns when looked at on a population level compared to cost.

    This is why there are developing countries, especially in Asia, who are able to provide comprehensive public health programmes, modest primary care services and a very rudimentary secondary and tertiary care system and have better population health outcomes than large parts of Europe

  • nigel hunter 15th May '19 - 4:12pm

    Govnt underfunding is deliberate.Remember the Govnt is right wing Tory who would love to introduce Health Insurance into the system.The latest scandal on BBC4 re opium ‘pain killers’ could lead to US companies exploiting the system.
    Shortfall in staff goes thru the entire system, From lack of GP’s and overworked (limited time to see each patient). to shortage of nurses both from Brexit chasing staff away and the shortfall of nurse training. One new nurse that I know was glad to be one of the last recruits before bursaries were removed. The slow starvation of funds strangles the system AND gives the right wing press excuses to denigrate the NHS over time leading to disillusion amongst the public.
    James Pugh points out the advantages of ‘curing ‘the problem at source.Prevention is better than waiting for a cure. As a result MORE funding should be put into comprehensive health care programmes AND training AND education amongst the public. Money should NOT be taken from the rest of the NHS. money for the new project should be extra. In time giant costs of the primary care system will be reduced thru prevention strategies.
    Farage in past comments is interested in opening up the NHS to more privatisation on the American model His party can become the No deal Brexit party which could wreck the NHS that the people of this country love.

  • Innocent Bystander 15th May '19 - 4:38pm

    It’s not a religion. It’s just health care. Other models are available. The NHS only ranks 15th in the Euro Health Care Consumer Index. What’s wrong with the models employed by the 14 European nations above us?

  • Excellent news about your husband Kirsten.

  • Jayne Mansfield 15th May '19 - 6:48pm

    The NHS is no longer that good, and that has been intentional. Work to destroy a service that was rated highly and then use the discontent as a reason to move to a private insurance system.

    Parts of the NHS are still excellent, e.g. emergency care, ( thanks to NHS staff who are still prepared to put in the unpaid hours), but GP practice has been destroyed by first Labour’s GP contract that removed 24 hour care from GPs, and then by the NHS and Social Care Act supported by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. GPs are the gatekeepers to further prompt specialist treatment and any delay at this stage is crucial to outcome.

    @ Innocent Bystander ,

    May I suggest you take a more critic a look at the Euro Health Care Consumer index.

    If you can’t access the critique by Martin McKee ” What if anything does the Euro health index actually tell us” BMJ February 2016. I have checked and you can get a flavour on Wikipedia’s Euro health Consumer Index.

  • Kirsten Johnson 15th May '19 - 7:48pm

    Thank you all for your good wishes, comments and insights. Improvements are needed, that’s for sure, not just money.

  • Innocent Bystander 15th May '19 - 11:21pm

    Kirsten,
    Like others, I am pleased that your husband received decent health care and I know others who have been equally well served.
    But it’s not universal. My wife had to present her symptoms at least five times and only with persistence did we get our health centre to send her for tests instead of being fobbed off. However, within an hour of the results of those tests she was in a hospital bed with canulas, drips and oxygen. She has recovered, thankfully, but the NHS is just an organisation, not an object for religious devotion. I looked around while she was in and noticed two things. The devotion of the front line staff and an unbelivable level of waste and inefficiency the highlight of which was when two members of the care team appeared to be collecting the same information at the same time for two different pieces of scruffy paper. The nations above us in the Euro league table are getting as good, or better, service without an NHS. We should not close down debate because of our attachment to those three letters.

  • Peter Reisdorf 15th May '19 - 11:25pm

    The NHS has suffered in the last 25 years or so, which is why it isn’t as good as it used to be. What it needs is some of the bad things done in that time such as the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to be reversed. The party should be supporting the campaign for the NHS Reinstatement Bill (http://www.nhsbillnow.org/).

  • John D Salt 16th May '19 - 9:18pm

    Without the NHS, I would almost certainly have died in childhood.

    I don’t see what advantage is expected to obtain from making patients pay more for treatment, or channelling the health budget towards the enrichment of private health companies or insurers. And I do not buy the idea that only privately-owned organisations can be run efficiently.

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