Imagine going to A&E (short for the accident and emergency department) and having to wait over four hours until you get treated. Or, imagine having to wait 18 weeks for non-urgent (but essential) hospital treatment. Or, imagine that you are a cancer patient who is not treated within 62 days of urgent GP referral. Unfortunately, due to funding restraints, this is the current state of our National Health Service (NHS).
First, let’s look at the history of the NHS. Well, it first began at Park (now Trafford) hospital in Manchester by the Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan, on the 5th of July 1948. It began under a labour government who wanted the burden of health services to be shared across everyone rather than the costs coming directly from ill or injured people. From that moment, by law, all residents were given the right to access health services without having to pay directly. Instead, the money would come from a proportion of the taxes payed by UK residents.
So, how much funding does the NHS get? Under a Labour government in 2009/10, health spending was £112 billion (accounting for inflation since then). The Conservative government in 2017/18 planned to spend £124.7 billion on health. Although the future of the NHS was a major part of the 2019 election, Boris Johnson has pledged to ‘massively’ increase NHS funding. He consistently said that the NHS “is not for sale”. Now, what does this funding go towards? The majority of it pays for salaries and medicine. The rest of the money goes towards longer term investments such as spending for buildings or equipment.
Through the NHS, individuals can visit a nurse or doctor, get help from A&E, see a midwife and get urgent help from an ambulance without paying the full cost. In addition to this, individuals can receive mental health services and sexual health services for free on the NHS. Individuals seeking mental health treatment, in some cases, need to have a referral from their GP. Services are not all free though. In fact, individuals only get free prescriptions if they:
- are over 60
- are under 16
- are 16-18 in full time education
- are pregnant or have had a baby in the past 12 months
- have valid medical exemption
- have a continuing physical disability
- have a valid war pension
- have a low income
Can everyone have access to it for free? UK taxpayers can access the services for free, although they may have to pay for prescriptions. Furthermore, those with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) are entitled to state healthcare within the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland at a reduced cost or sometimes for free (could change with Brexit). However, other foreign visitors have to pay a fee for their treatment. They will be told this before they receive the treatment.
Whilst the NHS has been ranked the number one health system in a comparison of 11 countries, it is far from perfect. This is due to the inadequate funding. Waiting times have increased across all areas. This has been due to government cuts which has, in effect, led to less staff being employed. Those members of staff who do work for the NHS have to work long hours with a lot of pressure on them and few have moved over into private healthcare.
Our NHS needs serious reform to ensure it’s security in the future. With more funding, comes more staff and equipment. The result of this will lead to lower waiting times and a more effective system. Without more funding, private healthcare may be our future.