Friday, 26 August 2011

The NHS is still remarkable

Here's something you don't hear all that much these days: the NHS is still an extraordinary organisation.

I've had recourse to the Service over the last few weeks, as my wife-to-be, The Educator, has broken her writst. Roller disco, would you believe. But still.

Patched up on the night, she returned to our local (big city) hospital the next day, to see a Registrar, two nurses and a radiographer within an hour or so, have an X-ray and see an expert. Then, a week later, she saw a consultant and a consultant surgeon who assessed her progress and then operated when they felt she needed a pin in the wrist.

All free at the point of use. All borne by the taxpayer. And all at a marvellous speed and level of service, if in rather sparse and threadbare surroundings. A private hospital would have laid on a nice coffee machine and some deep-pile carpet for your BUPA dues. Worth it? Nope.

It's another example of that much-cited public space, really. Despite the relative downgrading of NHS funding issues over the last two or three years (the Service is being spared the worst cuts imposed elsewhere in the public sector), great big injections of cash increasing at a real-terms rate of seven per cent increases every year has changed the NHS and the country. Prime Minister Tony Blair's 2000 pledge to raise British health spending to the European average has raised funding to historically very high levels.

Chronic illnesses used to see you wait many months to be seen by a specialist. Now? A few weeks at most.

The lessons are these. Firstly, good care costs money. For all the talk of reform and restructuring (interminably), we have to pay collectively for what we want. The UK has middling health spending and middling outcomes. There's by no means a perfect match between the two figures - the US experience shows us that - but those two numbers are related. Secondly, and this goes back to my point earlier this week about our long-distance trails and coast paths, our communal provision and shared spaces can be as enjoyable, effective, effusive and cherished as our private fiefdoms.

An optimistic thought to sign off on this week.

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