Sunday, 29 April 2018

We Need To Hang On To Our NHS

"Don't bother coming with me," Dad told Mum, when his appointment for a pacemaker check came through the post.  "It's a bit earlier than expected, but it's just routine."

Nobody thought any more of it, really.  Sure, we hadn't thought Dad would need a pacemaker check for several months, yet, but at least they were keeping an eye on him.  So, it came as something of a shock when, on the day of his appointment, Dad phoned home to tell us he was being admitted as an emergency.

It turned out that there had been some software glitches and the hospital had called Dad in earlier than planned, in order to ensure the software in his pacemaker was working properly and sending out the correct readings.  Sure enough, his software was working fine, but the technician checking it spotted that the readings themselves didn't look right.  A medic was called.  Tests were done.  It was concluded that a wire had frayed and come away, meaning there was a danger of the pacemaker not working properly, or stopping altogether.  For reference, Dad's heart doesn't work without a pacemaker.  If the pacemaker stopped, he would stop, unless he was in a place where he had medics on hand to pace his heart externally until surgery could be carried out.  Had there not been a software glitch that meant he was called in much earlier than expected for a check-up, the wire could have come apart completely at any time, causing the pacemaker to fail and that would have been it.

The stress caused to everyone in a family when someone has an unexpected medical emergency is huge.  You worry about whether they're going to be okay.  For us, distance was an issue, too - we live 40 miles away from the hospital he was admitted to, so it wasn't a quick trip to get there.  You panic about the practicalities; calling people to let them know someone won't be at work or at a planned event.  Explaining what's happened, to other family members.  

The one thing we didn't have to worry about was the cost of Dad's treatment.

That's because our National Health Service provides free healthcare for all.  Unlike systems such as the one used in America, where rising insurance premiums mean that millions of people cannot afford health care and will sometimes even neglect symptoms rather than face enormous costs for their treatment, at no point during Dad's hospital stay (8 days), did we have to work out the cost of his tests, his eventual surgery or any additional medication he may have been given during his time there.  We didn't have to worry about something not being covered by our health insurance package.  We didn't have to fret that his sudden medical emergency was going to lead to a financial crisis for our family.

And that is how it SHOULD be.

Our National Health Service was set up to provide universal health care, free at the point of use.  Whoever you are, whatever your financial situation, you can walk into a hospital and receive treatment, without any financial burden to you or your family.

Back in February, Donald Trump tweeted that the UK system was "going broke and not working" and used it as an example of why America should not follow suit and have a free, universal healthcare system.  He claimed the people of the UK were marching in the streets because our system is not working.  He was wrong.  

The people were marching to protect our NHS.  They were marching because they love our NHS and are proud of it.  They were marching because we need to hang on to it.  Yes there are problems with the system, yes it is suffering from being underfunded, from staffing cuts and from the threat of privatisation, but free, universal healthcare is something the people marching on the streets wanted to defend, not curse.

Our health service should never be a privatised organisation, driven by profits, rather than patient care.  Our health service should be a system in which patients are safe and those who work tirelessly to treat patients are rewarded with equally safe working conditions and a decent level of pay.

Yes, there are problems.  The NHS has been hacked at by a succession of governments who have not protected it the way it deserves.  The threat of privatisation looms large and there is an understandable fear that companies rivalling one another for NHS contracts will not result in greater choice for patients, but a system which values profits, first and foremost.

During Dad's 8 day stay in hospital, we saw staff working long shifts, showing extraordinary dedication.  We saw nurses and doctors going above and beyond for their patients.

We also saw technicians having to work as porters, because there were no porters available, thus cutting down the number of scans etc that those technicians were able to carry out.  We saw the frustration etched on the faces of hardworking medical professionals, who were having to send home people who needed treatment, because there simply wasn't the space for them.

The right wing press will insist that the strain on our health service is caused by so-called "health tourism" and excessive levels of immigration.  But we live in an ageing population.  A growing society.  Our health service hasn't been given the funds to catch up with those things.  The truth is, there's not merely one reason our NHS has been struggling.  The reasons are multiple.  But the answer is not privatisation.  The answer is not a system in which the poorest in society cannot afford to become ill.

During Dad's 8 day stay in hospital, my mum worked out that she'd probably paid well in excess of £50 just on parking.  All of that goes to a private company - the NHS doesn't see a penny.  Why?  Why can't we have a percentage of the ludicrous fees charged to park outside a hospital put back into the hospital itself?  It wouldn't feel so galling to spend £6 to sit by your sick relative's bed for a few hours, if you knew some of that money would eventually go towards the care of patients.

Taxation is the main way the government are likely to find extra cash for the NHS and I was one of the people who fully agreed with the Lib Dem's suggestion of adding an extra 1p in every pound onto income tax, to be spent on the health service.  It needs funding.  It has to be protected.

People like Trump might think a free healthcare system is something terrible.  Something to be mocked.  But they misunderstand.  A healthcare system which is universal and free at the point of delivery is something to be so, so proud of.  It's just that you have to look after it and keep it properly funded in order to keep it working.  And that's where governments have failed our NHS.  They've not listened to those working within it.  They've penny-pinched.

Those whose jobs involve looking after patients just want a better system to work in.  We spoke to one nurse on the day Dad was admitted, who confessed: "If you come into this job for the money, you're going to be disappointed.  But then again, if you come into it for the money, you're not the right person to be doing this job, full stop.  It's about wanting to help people.  It's about caring.  I'd rather any money went on equipment and employing extra staff, than getting a huge pay rise for me."

But for all the complaining I have done - and will do - about cuts to services, underfunding and waiting times etc, I still feel passionately proud of our FREE National Health Service.

Yesterday, I was in a car accident (yeah, it's been a great couple of weeks!).  The car was drivable, I made an insurance claim and figured I was fine.  Within hours, I started to get sharp pains down my spine and across my neck and shoulders.  By this morning, it was really hurting.  So, I nipped to my local Minor Injuries Unit, where I was checked over by a nurse, given painkillers and advised as to how best to treat the acute neck sprain caused by the crash.  

I didn't pay a single penny.

When someone you love becomes unwell - or, indeed, when you are taken ill - there is enough to worry about, without also panicking about the mounting cost of treatment, potentially running into thousands.  Free healthcare is something to be so proud of.  

We must hang onto our NHS with everything we've got.  

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