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NHS – Happy Birthday, I Love You

July 6, 2018

Yesterday saw the 70th anniversary of the day the National Health Service was born, and it really was born, kicking, screaming, gasping for air and full of potential.  It was not a popular idea and the Labour government of the time had to fight very hard to realise the dream of a healthcare service free for all to use.  From its conception and throughout its hopefully immortal lifetime the NHS has been a focal point of discussion, derision, hope and fear, and there are very few people in the UK who have not been in contact with the NHS at some point in their lives.

NHS leaflet 1948 - front page

First page of the leaflet introducing the new service to the country; July 1948

The NHS is, for me, the pinnacle of what social care can be.  “From Cradle To Grave” as the initial leaflets informing people about the new service for all would state, we are now gifted with healthcare to protect and preserve us all.  If we have a serious illness or life-changing accident we know we can receive treatment and rehabilitation without forcing our families (if we are lucky enough to have support) into potential poverty.  If we have chronic conditions, we are not forced into paying sky-high insurance premiums if we are lucky enough to find insurance that will cover us, or having to make a serious decision as to whether our life is worth saving as opposed to the futures of our families or even our children, as insurance-based healthcare systems make their poorer citizens do.

It is a flawed institution, of course it is.  Almost from inception it has been underfunded, and there is always debate about how funding is organised, the postcode lottery of services offered to people, whether there is too much middle-management or not (spoiler: yes), what treatments should or shouldn’t be covered (homeopathy, I’m looking at you), but all systems are open to critique and that does not mean we should dismantle them.

Without the NHS I would be dead.  From birth, when my twin and I stayed slightly longer than normal in hospital partly because we were slightly jaundiced, partly because hospitals were nervous about multiple births at the time, and partly because we were a little bit early (again, because we were twins), I have been looked after by the NHS.

  • Aged 12 – I was diagnosed with epilepsy; I am on medication for this for my lifetime. Without the NHS I could not afford to pay for this medication.  My seizures would have continued, possibly worsened, they would have continued to come on without warning, and I would therefore have been in life-threatening situations every single time I fitted.
  • Aged 25 – diagnosed with clinical depression; I’ve been on medication twice now for this condition, and sought counselling twice. Mental health is an area in dire need of funding.
  • Aged 31 – diagnosed with spinal osteoarthritis which has since spread into my shoulders, neck, hips and is radiating outwards. I am on lifelong pain medication for this.
  • Aged 42 (just) – diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and am on the Watch & Wait protocol until treatment through chemotherapy is indicated. This is a complicated one, I do have cancer but it is known as one you live with rather than die from, although as I am 30 years younger than the average age for a diagnosed patient, it’s a bit up-in-the-air with regard to future prognosis; thusly the term ‘watch and wait’.

(I also have PCOS, sciatica and recurring Jessner’s Lymphocytic Infiltrate, but I consider those to have less of an effect on me that the conditions listed above)

I also received free dental treatment throughout my childhood which was lucky as I needed to wear different forms of braces from the age of 12 until they were removed shortly before I was 18.  Even now, the fee is minimal for a regular check-up, although having any fee for dental check-ups does mean many can no longer afford to go once they are past the age of minority.

The NHS has saved my life repeatedly, mentally and physically, and I am very deeply grateful for its existence and its continuation.

The NHS is in crisis in its 70th year; funding is desperately short and we are facing a loss of staffing as a result of Brexit even as we have a shortage of 100,000 medical personnel.  We need to fight harder than ever before to preserve the institution; imperfect, cumbersome and confusing as it may be, it is ours and it is an achievement admired worldwide.  “A Little Help From My Friends” is being released today, Friday 6th July 2018, for download to help raise funds, and can be found by clicking on this link here and downloaded by clicking here.

nhs-nye-bevan

I will leave you with this, the Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir performing “A Bridge Over You” (a Simon & Garfunkel and Coldplay mash-up) which still makes me cry tears of pride, joy and happiness.  The male soloist was my Emergency Doctor five years ago and this is MY hospital; you will be glad to know this single got to number 1 for Christmas 2015 charts after a massive campaign to get it there.

Whatever its problems, I very much wish a Happy Birthday to my beloved NHS, and will always raise a glass to many, many birthdays to come.

I love you, NHS.

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