Happy 70th Birthday NHS, but you need a better gift than money

HSG wants to hear from you about your health systems, your experiences, and your lives

Happy 70th Birthday NHS, but you need a better gift than money

By Vivienne Benson, HSG communications

I was a bit naïve in 2011. When the doctor told me that my mum had Sepsis, a blood infection, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was terrified that he was about to tell me she had something I knew much more about, and was well aware of all the risks associated. In my mind, Sepsis would be manageable and the doctors could give her a dose of antibiotics and send her home to carry on as normal.

My Mum spent six months in hospital and, when she did get home, it was a whole ‘new normal’. She lost her legs below the knees and all of her fingers to below her knuckles. We are full of thanks to the UK National Health Service (NHS) that my mum is alive and for her excellent care, but there is a long list of other services and people beyond the NHS that means my Mum continues to live an independent and fulfilling life.

So this is not a story about Sepsis, although people should take the time to familiarise themselves with its symptoms as the damage it can do is wildly underestimated. This is a story about #MyHealthSystem, and part of the bigger campaign by Health Systems Global to hear from you about your health systems, your experiences, and your lives.

Like most people in the UK, I am exceedingly proud and very protective of the NHS. I recognise that its failings are more often to do with structures and resources, and by no means to do with lack of compassion or will. I do, however, think that the notion that our health and wellbeing stops at the door of the NHS is unrealistic.

Healthcare free at the point of delivery is fundamental to the global goal of Universal Health Coverage, and as the founder of the NHS, Aneurin Bevan argued ‘no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means’. But while the foundation of the NHS is strong, it still has a long way to go to meet the important ‘health for all’ drive globally.

If my Mum’s experience has taught me anything, it is that her good health and independence are mostly about access to transport, a suitable space to live in, flat and well-maintained roads, ‘easy to access’ shops and restaurants, and a strong community to support her. Good quality healthcare is just one part of the picture.

When we talk about a health system, we cannot just talk about the hospitals. We need to think about the community that support people beyond the hospital – i.e. Community health workers, social workers, architects, street cleaners, family and friends, etc. We also need to step outside our box and look to the rest of the world to learn how build on our foundations.

In the case of the UK, I am ecstatic that the UK government has announced it is investing £20bn the NHS ahead of the anniversary. And so they should. They should support and build up the NHS staff to be able to do their job without the extreme pressures they are currently under. But I hope they go further than that still. The biggest gift that the UK Government could give to the NHS on its birthday is not just a large injection of much needed funds, but also the gift of understanding the complexity of our health and investing in that.

What’s your #MyHealthSystem story? Help us paint a picture of health systems globally and share your #MyHealthSystem story with @H_S_Global on Twitter now.

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