The NHS is the largest healthcare system in the world that is free at the point of service. It has been a great national source of pride since its inception in Wales in 1948. Still an anomaly internationally, it is now the most widely praised institution in the UK.
Aneurin Bevan, the Welshman who founded the NHS, is a national hero in Wales and was voted one of the 100 Greatest Britons in 2002. Today, the NHS provides wide-ranging vital healthcare services to millions of people in Britain, and it saves lives every single day. But the system is failing. Waiting times are ever-increasing, appointments are being cancelled and patients are being neglected. Our political parties are all promising, in a variety of ways, to prevent the system from crashing down around us. But I don’t know who to believe. Where do the faults with our health system lie?
I’ve been on a waiting list at the University Hospital of Wales for almost a year. My doctor blamed the system for keeping me waiting. My health problems affect me every single day, both mentally and physically. Problems with the NHS lie in the fact that there is no one responsible for its failures. Responsibility trickles down from managers to individual staff, to doctors and patients. We constantly show the failure of the NHS by pointing the finger at one another. Statistics released a fortnight ago show that NHS England failed to meet its target of seeing 95% of A&E patients in 4 hours. These statistics scare-monger the failure of the NHS and put unbearable pressure on it to perform. It’s not failing. It’s just overwhelmed.
I genuinely believe that there are individuals in this country who don’t understand what Accident and Emergency means. You don’t go to A&E with a mild headache, a small cut on your finger or because you have a mild cold. Grow a pair and wait until you can see your GP, or even talk to your pharmacist. Yes, it’s difficult to get an appointment with a GP. But we abuse the system. Imagine if GP appointments had a £10 charge. It’d make you think twice about going to the GP for your week-old cold (who won’t give you antibiotics).
Politicians preach about saving the NHS from its collapse. But how much they can really do is questionable. Pumping money into the system, as the Liberal Democrats are promising to do if they are elected on May 7th, will not work in the long term. Money runs out. People’s naivety grows. Politicians can’t save your NHS – not solely, at least. Come on, Ed Miliband can’t even eat a bacon sandwich and Nick Clegg can’t even apologise without it turning into a rap song. The Liberal Democrats have promised the same cure for the system as the Conservatives. The focus of the former lies on mental health, which will see £500m a year added to improve waiting times for treatments. The Conservatives will ensure that GP surgeries are running 7 days a week by 2020. All very good on paper – but highly unachievable. The wait for mental health treatment on the NHS seems to be never ending – no joke when your world is crashing around you. £500m will need to come from somewhere, too. Running GP surgeries 7 days a week will not stop the stupidity of individuals running there at every bump and scratch. Labour stated how their ideas for the NHS were being funded – a rarity – apparently a Mansion Tax will fund a large proportion of the wages of new staff in their thousands. New staff are also the focus of Plaid Cymru’s health policies. Labour are also optimistic about GP surgeries – promising appointments within 48 hours. And who can forget Nigel Farage’s discussion of immigrants bringing HIV into the country. So not only have politicians tried to encourage funding as the major way forward in rescuing the NHS, but they have also blamed our health issues on immigrants.
Whoever goes on to form a government after this year’s general election, and whether or not they follow through on their pre-election promises, it will not affect patients in Wales. The NHS in Wales has been under the jurisdiction of the Welsh Government since 1999, and the Welsh Assembly has had law-maing powers in this area since 2006. Since the devolution of the healthcare system, things have become progressively worse in Wales, with the NHS consistently missing its targets and lagging behind even the poor performances of NHS England. Many argue that the outdated Barnett Formula (the system used since 1978 to calculate how public funding is allocated to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) is to blame, with Wales being significantly under-funded. Finding a new, fairer way of calculating this is the flagship policy of Plaid Cymru. However, more funding is arguably not the solution to the NHS’ problemns in Wales or in England – and it is certainly not a sole solution.
Patients are the ones who need to be maintaining the NHS by showing their gratitude for it. Only using the system when necessary will help it to survive. The fault is largely with those people who abuse the system. Funding the system with more staff will improve waiting times and the management of healthcare overall, but it is up to us to decide how to use our NHS. It is ours – so we need to work to ensure that it survives.