As we approach the general election (though at a distance at this point), the parties are drawing their battlelines. The Tories want to talk about the economy; the UKIP want to talk about immigration (despite both being low on the voter salience measures) and Labour wants to talk about the NHS. So before we as a country tear ourselves to pieces, I thought it would be worth briefly reflecting on the NHS and what we, as taxpayers, want from our political leaders. This is a very personal reflection on the health service, and so should be taken as such.
In my view the National Health Service is exactly that. A health service, provided nationally. It is in many ways a simple idea which has become increasingly lost in the politicking in the run up to the general election. Over recent weeks I've read scare stories from left and right about the NHS, its future, and how it can be funded. I've heard some very simplistic solutions being advanced on late night discussion programmes hosted by Andrew Neil (you know the one). We've all heard about the need for reform, change, improvements, cutting costs, cutting management, raising productivity figures, etc etc. Things which, if applied to the funding of our political class, would find many of those demanding change wanting.
Thus I think we need to pause the spin/hysteria/'common sense' solutions of kicking out foreign doctors and nurses, and instead reconnect with the fundamental principle of what we want from healthcare.
As citizens we all pay our taxes to the government, and in turn the government spends our money. In that sense Thatcher's comment that there is no government money, only taxpayers money, is right. And as a taxpayer, I would suggest to the politicians demanding endless reforms (just so they have something to say) that they are wrong. We want our taxpayer's money spending on a good, well-funded NHS. Not a slimdown, streamlined, reformed-to-bring-in-the-market version of the health service. We want a universal, tax-funded health service, free from political interference from ALL sides of the spectrum, and available to all. This includes visitors to our country. It is a very simple idea, and sadly one which gets lost in all the debates between parties.
The current NHS crisis has been caused by the lack of funding. Or, put another way, the government refusing to spend our money as we expect. The crisis is on the head of the coalition because the government has chosen instead to spend our money reducing the deficit (or, put another way, the poor paying the rich even more) and investing in the HS2 railway. If HS2 was cancelled and the funding redirected towards health there would be no crisis at A&E. The government should be funding the NHS to ensure a high standard, universal service that is open to all.
It has become something of a disdainful argument from politicians about the NHS because it tends to be rooted in economics not people; it flows from the 'cost-cutting' obsession of the Tories and Liberals; and forgets that the NHS is about providing high quality universal healthcare to those in need. It also seems that the politicians have forgotten one other fundamental of the NHS. It is paid for in advance so it is there when we need it. We pay for it, with our taxes so that when we go to A&E we can be seen without the hurdle of means testing, bills, or even immigration status checks which has somehow crawled onto the agenda. It is not free, but it is provided in communities across the UK on a universal basis.
So, what is to be done? The funding crisis on the NHS has been caused by the refusal of the austerity-driven coalition to spend our taxes where we expect. Thus, as a taxpayer, the government must fund the NHS properly. It is not a question of 'can't afford to', given we somehow have the funds to pay for HS2 (amongst other things). Furthermore we should slow the pace of making the rich richer. What is the point of cutting services and benefits for those with little or nothing simply to repay those who lent us the money in 2008 to bail themselves out with? As a civilised country it is highly perverse to cut benefits for people with disabilities (and fund ATOS to legitimise it) yet give the money to billionaires who we bailed out six years ago.
Great Britain is a great country because we care. We have to remind our political leaders of this because it seems they too easily forget when in the bubble.