Undoubtedly there is a special relationship between our nation and the NHS. In fact, I think it is fair to say that we see the NHS as a fundamental expression of ‘Britishness’, an exemplar of fairness, high standards, and innovation. Devolution has brought about significant changes in Wales, Northern Ireland, and, in particular, Scotland, but the underlying principle of healthcare being free at the point of delivery is still very much intrinsic to our national psyche. And as such, health is thought about differently to other areas of the public sector such as education, defence, transport and policing. At a time when the country is hugely divided on many issues, the NHS is one thing we can all agree on.
Because while no one would begrudge us celebrating the achievements of the NHS and thanking the extraordinary staff who make such a difference to people’s lives, there is no little debate about what the future holds for the service, particularly in relation to funding.
Currently, around 30 per cent of public spending goes on health, nearly treble the proportion from the 1950s. And earlier this year, the government moved to define its vision for the sector – in England at least – by unveiling its ten-year plan for how it will allocate the previously announced budgetary increase of 3.4 per cent in real terms up to 2023.
But despite this, the evidence on the ground from staff and patients, and metrics such as A&E waiting times, points to a crisis. Dire warnings are coming from all angles, saying that unless we do something very radical, our health system is going to topple over.