Is the NHS a Sacred Cow? | Sarah Stook

Ever since the NHS was founded in 1948, in the wake of a tragic world war, it has been a constant part of our lives. Some call it the envy of the world. Others call it socialised medicine that is killing people. It gets a broad reaction.

The NHS is free at the point of use, but not totally. When we go to our GP or A&E, we don’t have to worry about getting our insurance on the line. We can sit in hospital and not worry about the costs. When it’s not free, it’s fairly inexpensive. Prescription prices may be rising, but they are capped. We pay for our dentist and opticians, but unless you’re a frequent flyer, it’s only once a year. If you are disabled, unemployed, old or young, these things are free to you.

Though it may be free at the point of use, as with all government services, you’re paying through your taxes. Some people get more than they pay in, whilst others don’t use as much as they send away in taxes. For most people, it’s hardly noticeable. After all, more people complain about their taxes going to foreign aid than they do the domestically ill. Most of us don’t really notice our taxes, they come out of our pay every month and goes on the things around us, even if we don’t notice it.

Still, we want our taxes to be used fairly.

The NHS came at a time when Britain was suffering from a war that killed and disabled millions of its citizens. The idea of not paying to see a doctor became revolutionary, especially for the poor. Though poverty is still an issue here, it is hard to imagine the poverty of post-War Britain. Gritty dramas like Call the Midwife show East End dockers and their families with multiple children, living in cramped accommodation. War veterans suffered lost limbs and with PTSD, an issue really not understood at the time.

Aneurin Bevin, the man deemed founder of the NHS, said that the organisation stood on three principles: ‘that it meets the needs of everyone, that it be free at the point of delivery, and that it be based on clinical need, not the ability to pay.’ The first changes were made by the Labour government, charging for dentures and spectacles. Soon after, the Conservative government introduced prescription charges. From then on, the NHS was no longer a joint enterprise meant for good, but a political exercise.

71 years later and the NHS is still here.

It’s also an election year and the NHS has found itself to be once again a political football. After decades of ‘X time to save the NHS,’ it’s that time again. Jeremy Corbyn blames years of austerity on the Tory government, claiming cuts have allowed services to be damaged. Boris Johnson fires back that Labour’s economic mismanagement allowed the NHS to be put in dire straits, claiming the Tories did what was necessary.

They’ve both talked about money, all parties have. Each party, however major or minor, screams about how they will properly fund the NHS. The promises are in the billions category. There doesn’t seem to be a spending limit, each party just talks about ensuring healthcare has enough of what it needs. If any party broke the NHS, they’d struggle to be elected. It’s the one thing nearly everyone uses, so it’s protected like a delicate child.

What about reform?

The ‘r’ word seems to be dirty in NHS discussion. When one talks about reform, it inevitably turns into a discussion about privatisation, an even dirtier word. Privatisation is a concern of many, hence why many pivot away from the subject unless they’re brave enough to face the wrath of NHS warriors. The thing is, we do need to talk about reform, so why is it so unpopular?

Many argue free healthcare is a right for all people and that it should not be put in the hands of those who seek to make or save money. Readers will likely have been impacted by the NHS, whether it was for themselves or those they love. Some will have been unlucky enough to lie in a hospital bed or lay unconscious as the mercy of skilled surgeons. That fear of it crumbling is enough for many to be concerned, from a patient perspective to one of an NHS worker.

The NHS is also one of the biggest employers in the world, 5th in fact. It’s the biggest employer in the United Kingdom. There are more layers in it than a cheesecake, going from cleaners to grossly highly paid managers. Nobody wants there to be job losses, even if they deem something inefficient- it’s not in human nature to see the human side of that cost being cut.

Nothing should be a sacred cow, especially something owned by the government. To those who believe in a small state, it is naturally treated with the upmost suspicion. When we look at the NHS, we know that it’s wasteful. Some of it is hard to control, such as when patients miss appointments and waste ten minutes that a doctor could have seen another person in.

The NHS Supply Chain is the one that gives the organisation everything. Whilst one can negotiate for better and cheaper products, it does not give them a real shot at the free market. One report uncovered the cost of packs of rubber gloves, so important in the NHS. A pack costs £16 from suppliers, yet can be bought for as little as 35p. This is money that could be either taken from the budget or invested in a few more A&E doctors.

Only recently, the prescription service stopped covering certain medications such as paracetamol. This was in an attempt to save millions, especially since many things that were initially covered could be bought at Tesco for a very little price. A 32 pack of paracetamol, for example, costs 95p from a chemist but costs the NHS £34 to prescribe. A pack of 12 anti-sickness tablets cost £2.18 in a chemist but costs £35 for prescriptions.

When one looks at the Labour argument against the Conservatives, the NHS is front and centre. The Tories cannot win that ground war on the NHS, whether they do well or not, as history is often against them. The NHS is always in the headlines, whatever time of year, but election time makes it more prominent.

Is the NHS a sacred cow? Perhaps. We need to look at it from a more forensic perspective, as opposed to on a monetary scale. Money doesn’t matter when it’s a black hole and doesn’t matter when permanent damage has been made.

The sacred cow watches as its friends get slaughtered, whilst it remains getting grass fed from the hill.

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