As the battle lines were being drawn for the General Election, candidates began to make promises and, surprisingly enough, the NHS was once again at the centre of attention.
While this election promised to be designed and determined by Brexit, certain sections of the news continued to be dominated by the fact that our health service is failing and incompetent. As usual, politicians promised to deal with the NHS by throwing more money at the problem.
Labour promised to raise the NHS budget to £155 billion, which would apparently cut waiting times and boost mental health services. This follows from recent reports that hospital waits are worse than ever, and no key governmental targets have been met over the past three years.
Surely, it must be time for the government to realise that blindly funding the NHS does not improve its failing administration. Of course, the NHS does need a massive amount of money to function. If you consider the size and scale of the machine, it is a small miracle that it has survived this long, especially since funding reached an all-time-low under the coalition in 2010. NHS funding should increase, but more attention should be given to how this money is spent and on the fundamental issues of administration.
Last summer, my friend was given an opportunity to look through a small window into the inner workings of the NHS. Working in an administrative team in South London, the tales she told were not of an efficient, well-oiled machine, but of a misguided and ineffective service. Although she was a relatively powerless and minor cog for that month, I can’t imagine her experience was atypical of the national organisation.
When she arrived, this Camberwell-based team was faced with a 6-month backlog. But, the fault was not a lack of funds. Instead of answering the constant phone calls from patients or focusing on the job at hand, most of the team was preoccupied with other affairs, namely coffee breaks or one member of staff’s honeymoon.
Whether this lack of action was due to poor management or other factors, what is evidently clear is that the problems of the NHS run far deeper than financial troubles. With over 1,250 hospitals throughout the UK, the administration of healthcare is no small task. This figure includes the 290,000 doctors of which 53,000 are junior doctors and doesn’t even account for walk-in centres, GP surgeries and more. But you would think, with the constant media and public pressure to reduce waiting times and increase general efficiency, the government would focus more time on the problems at ground level.
Quite simply, if the paperwork is not done, the health service can’t perform, no matter how many doctors there are, or how hard they work. Regardless of its problems, the NHS continues to be one of this country’s proudest achievements and despite its defects, privatisation is not a viable or sensible option.
Free healthcare available for all should not be taken for granted, but the fact that the entire country is affected by various NHS policies, makes the lies and empty promises made by politicians even harder to bear: the big Brexit bus immediately comes to mind.
The NHS has become more and more of a political tool over which politicians bicker. They commit to unachievable goals and then ultimately fail to follow through with them. By using blanket statements, pledging to “outspend the Tories” or “strengthen our NHS”, healthcare becomes a piece in the political game to lure in undecided voters.
In its infancy the idea of a universal health service, as detailed in the 1942 Beveridge Report, was a radical measure in response to the monumental social changes brought by war. The escalation of war on the home front brought by the Blitz and evacuation, brought the problems of health, poverty and welfare to the forefront of politics. After thousands of children were sent from industrial cities to small rural villages, there was a wave of criticism directed towards mothers and society for the relatively poor standard of welfare and life.
The promise of solutions to remedy the country’s social discrepancies, including a national health service, bolstered Labour’s position in 1945, their campaign focused on the fulfilment of wartime assurances.
The eventual implementation of a National Health Service was established in a time of promise and hope after a war that devastated the country. It was the nearest this country has ever come to a ground-zero, in which social policy was reinvented.
In 1945, the offer of free and universal healthcare was enough to satisfy a tired, war-struck Britain. Now, the NHS is a different beast and the public, the majority of who have never known a life without free healthcare, are less tolerant towards the defects of the service.
In the era of modern technology with super-fast internet and high-speed trains, in a world where we can cross continents in mere hours; the idea of waiting for healthcare on the NHS seems unacceptable. At its birth, I doubt the Labour government wished for an 18-week wait for a non-urgent appointment or a 10 hour wait in A&E. But the NHS was created in another world with different priorities.
Nowadays, 70 years on, it is not unreasonable to expect the structural bases of the organisation to be efficient and successful, especially because of the millions that are pumped into it annually. As it grows and evolves with the growing population and diversifying priorities, there is a greater need to reform it at its 1940s roots.