I ♥︎ the NHS
The NHS and I have grown up together, changed together, matured together. I love the NHS, but let’s face it – just because you love something, or someone, doesn’t mean you can’t feel immensely irritated with it at times.
Me and the NHS – we’re like brothers.
John, my real, flesh and blood brother, was very much older than me. John worked as a doctor, and whilst I was only a junior medical student, he died of leukaemia. These days, he would almost certainly have survived. In so many ways, medicine and healthcare have come on in leaps and bounds to the immense benefit of the British public. But I never really had time to develop that brotherly relationship with John – the age gap was simply too great.
The NHS was 364 days old when I was born. We’ve grown up together, changed together, matured together. I love the NHS like a brother, but – let’s face it – just because you love something, or someone, doesn’t mean you can’t feel immensely irritated with it at times. And for all my love of the NHS, and for many of the reasons my colleague Rich Taunt has written about in his superb blog , it can still frustrate and exasperate me at times. That’s true love.
Criticising the NHS can sometimes feel foolhardy. “You mean to say you would rather it was privatised?” someone will retort. Doing anything that implies concern about this beloved institution, with all its rainbows and its clapping, can be seen as being almost treasonous. But that is so very far from the truth.
A year or so ago, the NHS diagnosed my cancer, and started me on the challenging path to recovery, for which I will always feel immensely grateful. At the end of my first session of treatment, as I sat up from the bench where I had been firmly and claustrophobically anchored in an extraordinary mesh-plastic moulded mask under a massive radiotherapy machine. I recall thinking to myself how lucky I was to be living in a country with a health service which meant that I didn’t have to worry about paying.
Cancer was quite worrying enough, without the additional fear and threat of bankruptcy.
It felt extraordinary that other citizens had contributed towards the enormous cost of the treatment that I was receiving, in the same way – of course – that I had contributed through my taxes to the care of others. Cancer was quite worrying enough, without the additional fear and threat of bankruptcy. Indeed, the only costs that I faced in the many months of treatment was for the fuel in my car to get to the hospital, and the parking costs when I got there.
But I was also very aware that the care I was receiving was seriously expensive. Not just because of the drugs and radiotherapy, but also the extensive and skilful multi-disciplinary team that helped me; doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, radiotherapists, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, dentists, dental hygienists, audiologists, dieticians, receptionists and porters. All those and the many administrative and support staff that I never saw but who matter so much to the smooth running of any hospital.
In other countries around the world, the costs to the individual patient can indeed be astronomical and are a leading cause of personal bankruptcy. The cost of healthcare isn’t just of academic interest. It can be central to personal questions of affluence and poverty, of life and death. This is a challenge that ultimately impacts on every one of us.
Loving the NHS means caring about how it could do better
Loving the NHS means caring about how it could do better, about how it can focus on the whole complexity of healthcare, recognising that you are just as dead from suicide as you are from cancer, recognising the futility of becoming ever more skilful at treatment whilst ignoring and defunding public health and prevention, being amazed at the skill that has gone into treating Covid-19 but concerned about the conditions whose care has shifted onto the back-burner.
Uncritical love, love that can see no wrong, isn’t really love at all. It is much closer to lust or obsession. Real love carries on loving despite the imperfections. Real love should encourage and enable every one of us who truly love the NHS to move into the next phase of its life even stronger than before. Our rainbows and our clapping are just Valentine cards – lovely symbols – but not enough.
I love the NHS.