On this day in 1945, the minister of health, Aneurin Bevan, unveiled a document to the Labour government cabinet called ‘The Future of the Hospital Services’. He proposed “the complete taking over – into one national service – of both voluntary and municipal hospitals”.And so the National Health Service (NHS) was created. Bevan asserted: “No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.” That remains the overriding principle of the NHS.
I am always intrigued by another quote by Bevan: “A free health service is pure Socialism and as such it is opposed to the hedonism of capitalist society.” And it’s true. If anyone was to ask me to define socialism, it would be the NHS. Every woman and man is equal once they walk through the doors of an NHS hospital. The NHS exists, to quote Bevan’s book, “In place of fear”.
You might think, given Attlee’s achievements regarding the NHS and the welfare state that his Labour government was akin to today’s Labour Party. Nothing could be further from the truth. Attlee also commissioned our independent nuclear deterrent, he was a strong supporter of the formation of NATO, he was never scared to commit our armed forces to foreign conflicts, he urged the USA to take a much stronger stance in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
I suppose we took our NHS for granted until it came under existential threat under the Conservative governments led by Margaret Thatcher from 1979. As she quickly showed following her election, Thatcher hated the working class and set about dismantling the welfare state and attacking organised labour. The chosen method for the destruction of the NHS was by stealth, by deliberate under-investment which led to numerous crises until the New Labour government led by Tony Blair literally saved it.
We know that if we get ill, doctors will make their assessments and prescribe their treatments on a medical level and not a financial one. If you have ever been to America, you will find an entirely different scenario. The American psyche is very different to ours and vast swathes of the country believe that the government has no role in health provision, or pretty well anything else. In Britain, we have an overwhelming consensus.
I want the NHS to get even better and that will cost money. If we need to pay extra taxes, then so be it. And by ‘we’, I mean all of us, rich or poor, although obviously those at the top will be expected to pay a little more than those at the bottom. I do not want anyone to wait on an NHS waiting list, sometimes in pain, often in fear. I want NHS workers to be properly and fairly rewarded, I do not care where our doctors and nurses come from.
The continued existence of the NHS is a major reason when I get immensely frustrated when people say, “I don’t do politics”. But if you vote in an election, or referendum, then you DO do politics. If you, or a friend, or family member requires treatment, then your political decisions and choices have affected the treatment they get.
With an ageing population, demands on our NHS will become still greater. If we still want to bury our heads in the sand and insist politics don’t matter, we deny our own mortality and the future of the next generation.
We owe so much to the Labour government of 1945, the outstanding example being the NHS. I do not believe the NHS is safe under the Conservatives, especially given the impending disaster that is Brexit, but neither do I believe that a Labour government under, god forbid (not that god exists, but you get my drift), Jeremy Corbyn would do much better if it crashes the economy. The NHS should be beyond politics, but it isn’t. We used to took it for granted but we cannot afford to do that anymore because if we do, it may die.