Too many keyboard fingers have been pressing their flesh about Milliband's pre-battle cries on the NHS and we've let the games begin, watching our national treasure's fate play out only to decide with the capricious direction of our thumb turn who will win the election. There is more to this than just party politics. More than the £8bn a year in funding needed to 'save our NHS' from the jaws of meltdown.*
What about the people who provide patient care in this future-proofing debate? Where will they be in 2020?
Junior doctors are leaving in their droves to enjoy a more compelling work life balance overseas; our overstretched GP surgeries are providing the medical equivalent of 'Open All Hours' to just stay still; we've established a track record of employing overseas nurses and of pouring money into agency and locum staff to prop up a depleted contingent. Add a mound of official paperwork, metrics, targets, reports, insufficient equipment, unheard of patient traffic, audits, inspections, bed shortages, investigations....
Enter increasing rates of illness and disease, bringing higher patient volumes, a 'fix-me-now', drive-thru customer mentality popping into A&E rather than waiting until the surgery opens tomorrow, because 'I've paid my taxes, I'm owed'; accompanying relatives - the new stakeholder from hell - who bring their own brand of effrontery and abuse in their anguish to secure immediate gratification for their sick loved one. Who in their right mind would sign up for a daily battering from this?
Our consultants, registrars, nurses, auxiliaries, porters, catering staff, GPs, community workers, care workers, that's who.
The UK has just been through a major people-in-queues season, not of pre-Christmas shopping frenzies nor of bargain basement January sales but outside some of our most esteemed healthcare institutions, spilling out beyond the doors of A&E departments for the world media to gloat over.
The phrase 'national treasure' gets regularly wheeled out, a patronising pat on the head for an institution that's been a comforting insurance policy in the background of our lives. The NHS is an expectation, a divine right, like we're some celebrity Formula 1 driver and it's our very own pit stop whenever needed. Now that the rubber of truth's starting to hit the road, having to queue up to get our bodies mended we're seeing what will become a routine overload on the system, maybe that's why dissatisfaction with the NHS has recently hit an all-time low??
Yet the medical professionals share, stick-of-rock-like unshakeable belief about their purpose: 'To care for the patients'. No mention of hitting targets, securing a surgery's future, getting x patients out of beds by y timescale. Simply a heart-felt desire to serve. How long can these vocational virtuosos continue to beat the heart of their passion in the face of a time-bomb that looks like it's already gone off?
How long can they be driven as workhorses by a system that is snowballing in demand and set to drain our financial resources in ways we haven't dared to consider, in a bold attempt to soak up the wave? But the cost to the human beings holding it all together at the coal face is having its own profound effects too. Increases in stress-related illness, sick absence, an inability to recruit - who'll want to take this burden when the media will do its bit to show its version of the truth about the ugliness of a career in the health service?
We may well find those queues we've recently been standing in now face onto a closed door with a 'Job Vacancies' sign in the window.
Our 'national treasure' is only a treasure because of the people supporting us in healing through their skill, care, selflessness. Without them we have no healthcare backbone to support our ageing demographic, our drug, alcohol and legal high misdemeanours, our heart, cancer and mental health patients. These people can only take so much before they throw in the towel on the profession and find something less abusive to pay the bills.
We would do well to rethink the concept of 'Weaponising the NHS' into weaponising our NHS workforce. For how can we possibly expect our medical teams to continue to deliver exceptional health care in the face of the illness and disease epidemic continuing to tsunami our way, if we do not embrace their own need for self-care as the fundamental starting point?
Because we rely on them to get us, our families, friends and acquaintances through our tough times. They need support and space to look after and truly care for themselves, because their health and wellbeing impacts patients directly. Would you rather be treated or nursed by someone who is vital, fit, alert, had a good night's sleep and hadn't numbed out the previous day's stress of work on one of our many socially acceptable forms of distraction or disregard? Or by someone jaded, in overwhelm, checked out and exhausted?
The health and wellbeing of our doctors, nurses, carers, therapists and all medical support staff is going to be the differentiator in our ability to deal with the swathes of illness and disease that will come through our GP practices, hospitals and community healthcare services.
How we live on a daily basis affects our health and wellbeing, so surely, with a workforce that is so crucial to our nation's ability to cope with the forthcoming tide of increased patient activity, should we not be supporting our healthcare workers and medical practitioners in developing a way of living that promotes self-care at the heart of their wellbeing?
If the NHS really is a national treasure then let's treasure it and that means treasuring and supporting those who are its lifeblood, not merely focusing on its relationship with the Treasury.