NHS – killed by cuts

Posted by Alexander Hay

For all the criticism, our health service has benefited us greatly.

The NHS - a vision of things to come?

The NHS has the unenviable position of being a national treasure that no one is ever fully happy with. There are some ideologues who would do away with it altogether, though they are a minority, and others who dream of ev

er greater private sector involvement, conveniently forgetting how fiascos like outsourced cleaning and internal markets did much more harm than good.

Yet as we may be about to learn with the probable death of print newspapers, we'll miss the NHS if it ever goes. Much of the problem is that many of those debating its future were not alive when the NHS was first founded, back in 1948.

This is key to understanding what the NHS has done well. Take infant and child mortality (from birth to age 14). In 1947, the infant mortality rate was 41 per 1000 births. By 1980, this had fallen to 7.7 per 1000 and by 2009, this was down to 3.1 per 1000.

Similarly, how long those children will live has expanded considerably. In 1948, the life expectancy for men was 65, for women 70. By 2011, this has risen to 77.9 for men and 82 for women.

During this time, diseases such as tuberculosispolio and diptheria, while the survival rates for diseases such as AIDSheart disease and cancer continue to rise.

Moreover, the NHS continues to be affordable at the point of use. This explains the increasing health of the nation listed above, the easy and ready access to healthcare allowing for the public to benefit without paying for it directly.

Some may say such a state of affairs is unaffordable or a ruinous 'ponzi' scheme, but they do not take into account the indirect benefits of people living for longer and better, without having to spend so much of their own income to achieve this.

The other cause for scepticism is our reliance on the media for information. Sadly, while it is very good at reporting things when they go wrong, there is an assumption that no one wants to read good news when it occurs.

For example, the response to rising life expec

tancy by the media was not one of celebration, but implied panic, with an emphasis on the added burden on the benefits system that this would mean. In a sense, the news media needs dysfunction in order to survive.

In truth, of course, the horror stories and the good news, when accurate, both reflect the true nature of the NHS. As experiments go, it has continued for 63 years, with many problems unsolved - particularly, the rise of super bugs such as MRSA and the lamentable treatment of elderly patients, not to mention a growing gulf between health professionals and the patients who ultimately fund their salaries.

Yet this doesn't answer the question that NHS scepticism inevitably leads us to - what would we replace it with? As the harm done by the latest fads in management and small state politics show, the alternatives would only have trouble working, but would cause considerable harm if left to run amok.

Instead, we need to accept that the NHS is neither perfect nor the total failure some like to paint it as. An acceptance that it does its job more often than not, and that it is the public's duty to hold it to account and not just complain about it on the sidelines, which has become one of the nation's favourite pastimes. But as with all the good things in life, we take the NHS far too much for granted.

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Alexander Hay

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