Thursday, July 28, 2011

NHS in the UK celebrates 63 years

By Sarah Williams
5th July 2011

The creation of the NHS on this day in 1948 was not just one of the greatest achievements in our history but also a massive stride forward in the provision and distribution of public healthcare. It was the first time anywhere in the world that completely free healthcare had been made available to all regardless of ability to pay and it is that element that remains jealously observed by nations such as the USA today.

Before the NHS, public health provision was patchy at best and was determined to a great extent by your ability to pay, where you lived and whether you were a man or a woman or a child. While poor workers were given free healthcare, their wives and children were generally not, reflecting the fact that the priority was not the patient, but the patient’s productivity within the labour market.

Women and children were not “making money” and so were not prioritised. This resulted in approximately 1 in 20 babies dying before their 1st birthday. Although there were altruistic doctors providing their services for free to the poor in places, there was no imperative for them to do so. As a result they were always going to be doomed to only scratch the surface of health inequality.
Had it not been for the outbreak of World War 2 forcing experienced medics to see the situation more directly and produce documentary evidence of their observations, the political movement to reform hospitals may never have got as far as the creation of the NHS.

But what of the NHS today, 63 years after Anuerin Bevan managed to successfully argue for his new NHS to be available, free at the point of need and provided to 100 per cent of the population? 

Patient satisfaction with the NHS is at an all-time high.

The Commonwealth funds ranking of health systems performance in 2007 which measured a number of factors including quality, equity and safety ranked the UK at number 1 (the USA’s mainly privatised and market driven system ranked last).

As a percentage of GDP, even after the great increase in NHS spending undertaken by the last government, the UK still spends the least on healthcare in comparison to 8 other developed countries including the USA, (spending the most), France, Germany and Australia.

Currently it would seem, we spend less and get more.

No one in the NHS would dispute the need to adapt and change, and in physiotherapy we are constantly finding new and innovate ways to meet patients’ needs in the difficult financial climate.

But despite the Government’s recent listening exercise on its controversial proposals for the health service, our message is clear: “The NHS as we know and love it is still at risk,” Phil Gray, the chief executive of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, has said.

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