"The National Health Service and the Welfare State have come to be used as interchangeable terms, and in the mouths of some people as terms of reproach. Why this is so it is not difficult to understand, if you view everything from the angle of a strictly individualistic competitive society. A free health service is pure Socialism and as such it is opposed to the hedonism of capitalist society. The collective principle asserts that ... no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means." -- Aneurin Bevan, In Place of Fear.
The quote above is from the man who founded the NHS, the pride and joy of Great Britain; so much so that it featured in the Olympic opening ceremony! Why then, does every newly elected government try and tamper with something that clearly isn't broken. This government, the coalition government, are attempting to bring about "Backdoor" privatisation of the NHS. There is no hiding from it. When you give power to GPs, privately contracted individuals, the needs of the patients - one could be forgiven for thinking - could be neglected to meet contractual obligations. However, this article, despite my vehement opposition to the "Backdoor" privatisation, will focus on something far more precise; hospital waiting times.
In our modern and metropolitan world, the NHS has had to change with the times. A measure introduced to make sure this happened was the NHS' waiting times targets. These targets have become integral to NHS procedure, and I would argue, at a huge detriment to the quality of care provided.
All too recently, we have heard horrific stories in the news, about the Mid-Staffordshire scandal, and the tragic demise of between 400 and 1,200 innocent patients, because of inadequate care. Upon reflection, I find myself asking, why did this happen, under who and more importantly, why was it allowed to happen over a prolonged period? By NHS standards, this hospital was doing well; it was meeting its waiting times targets.
However, we are now aware that it was a failing hospital; one that neglected patients to ensure that waiting times were met. Maybe it's because I'm 16 going on 60 and look back fondly at the NHS; why it has always been a success, why it always will be a success, and why we need it in our modern world. The NHS is a bedrock, a pillar of society that if tampered with too much, outrage will ensue. This has been demonstrated by the unprecedented change that Andrew Lansley - the former Health Secretary - put forward, during his time in this post. The ring fencing of the NHS budget has in effect led to a cut, making the pressurised work environment even more stressful, when the nurses, the people on the ground, take home less money; inflation considered. Quality of staff is not an issue that needs to be considered here, but of course, in every organisation there are flaws and poor staff; particularly in a huge organisation such as the NHS. I do however question the management of the Mid-Staffordshire trust, and how effectively it worked in terms of improving the service available to their patients.
I have been brought up by my parents, both of whom work in the NHS, and I'm proud to say that. Something that we must not forget is that the ethos in the NHS is different to other government departments, and we must accept this. I strongly believe that most people, including myself, would rather be treated with care and compassion, from a highly trained, highly skilled workforce, than as a customer; as (for example) the Foreign and Commonwealth Office do.
We've all heard the horror stories; ‘I was sitting waiting in Accident and Emergency for 6 hours, 6 hours without being seen.’ However, I put this to you: would you rather that your NHS prioritised, dealing with the emergencies first, saving lives, helping people as they entered the service to do? Or would you rather see a service that met all of its targets, with the possible resultant being death. For me, it's obvious.
You must learn from your mistakes, and the NHS is no different in this respect. Trust the NHS, believe in why it was set up, and let the professionals do the job they are trained to do, without putting additional pressure on a workforce that is already stretched. Get rid of the horrendous waiting times targets, and let the hospitals get back to caring for people. Let them be utilised effectively, and see them improve the quality of care for their patients. If that means ignoring government targets; so be it.
By Ronan Valentine