I am not old enough to remember the NHS at inception but had a lot of experience of it during the 1960-70’s. There was one surgery where I had waited about a year for but that was seen as very exceptional at the time. Mostly my procedures were done within weeks or months of need. Several times I’d barely wait for a consultant appointment and this was at a time when the NHS had huge pressures by virtue of such now obsolete practises.
Never was I an inpatient for less than 2 weeks regardless of the procedure. A week of assessment prior to surgery and a week of recovery for normal for me.
My GP was certainly a different experience to today. He knew us, we knew him. This was in Dagenham, not a small place by any means but, we had the one doctor. We didn’t have appointments, we went when we were sick and we were seen the same day after a fair wait. Sometimes a half hour, others a couple hours. Several times I was direct to the hospital.
Wind forward and a decade or so back the ethos of the NHS was still in place, ‘Free at the point of need’. I mean, it really was. I say that, up until the Conservative (Thatcher) government of 1979, it had remained at 20p for much of the decade and then had year on year above inflation increases. Had it just been kept to inflation then we would now pay just £1.03 per item. Currently we are at £9.35 per item. If we reversed that trend then in 1979 we would have been paying £1.77 rather than that 20p!
Moving forward, and this is not political, it’s the facts of the time. Since the Labour party lost power in 2010 (11 years) funding in real terms and allowing for inflation has been cut over and over. Countless hospitals have been placed in special measures. Despite a range of targets, wait times have continued to rise in recent years prior to the pandemic. Staff retention has been low because of poor working conditions and low pay.
As such, the NHS has not been able to deal with both the pandemic and standard health issues. As such, many thousands have died waiting on treatment they would otherwise have got in good time. Cancer patients for example have died on waiting lists as under resourced hospitals have been forced to move over to emergency care for Covid patients. Despite opening hospitals at the start of the pandemic, the Nightingales, these were barely touched at all because there was not the staff to operate them.
A whole host of terrible political decisions over the last decade or so has directly and indirectly caused the deaths of thousands who should not have died, who, had measures been in place previously agreed in contingency planning meetings, they’d have continued to get routine treatments whilst the covid patients got the care they needed with medics wearing the correct PPE using available ventilators we were supposed to already have in reserve for just such an event.
Where are we now?
The reality for many if that they cannot see a doctor of any kind at all for anything other than a life threatening condition. Most routine surgeries are on indefinite hold. Many hospital appointments are seeing patients waiting months for a telephone appointment only to then go on another waiting list for several more months for just the slight hope of treatment.
Prior to the pandemic, GP surgeries and hospitals were given a list of treatments and surgical procedures the NHS would not fund, patients were told to go private.
I personally have experience of some of these:
A growth on the eyelid which gives blurred vision on the one remaining OK eye (still a high prescription) is seen as cosmetic and no longer available on the NHS
Vitamin D, prescribed by a GP as an essential supplement, is again, not something the NHS will fund and patients have to buy it themselves even though, not having it is likely to cause further complications in the years ahead.
A painful growth on the hand making all sort of things difficult is not life threatening and I’ve to wait many months just to get an ultrasound before it can be diagnosed.
A frozen shoulder has so far been left all of 2021 awaiting steroid injections after which the consultant expects I will need surgery but that too would be many months away.
All too often now the ethos of the NHS, the slogan which sold it, is dismissed as the NHS gets less and less funding and more of it is reassigned to the private sector.
I can see a point over the next decade when the government of the day declares the NHS to be too broken and invites in a higher level of private care with the NHS only available to those means tested to receive it.