Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The General Election, NHS and my Mum

To David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg: Please keep the NHS, the biggest jewel in the UK’s crown, shining

Ahead of the general election in the UK on Thursday (May 7), maybe one of the most closely fought elections in recent times, my only concern is for the National Health Service (NHS) to which I owe my deepest gratitude.

The NHS is an issue of great public concern and has rarely been out of the headlines in recent months. Polls show the NHS will be one of the issues people will base their voting decisions on, and I certainly would.

The Conservative and Labor parties appear to be neck and neck according to polls carried out for the Sunday newspapers. This, says the BBC, suggests a hung Parliament is likely, and the Lib Dems have been setting out their “red lines” -- with public sector pay joining education spending, a £12,500 personal allowance, £8bn for the NHS and an emergency "stability budget."

If the recent series of TV debates produced just one moment of consensus, it was on the importance of the NHS. Despite cuts elsewhere all the major parties, from left and right alike, appear to be in agreement that the NHS should receive more funding -- the argument being how much is needed and where this should come from.

An Economist/Ipsos MORI poll  shows that two in five of the British public (38%) think that health care is one of the most important issues facing Britain today, currently ranked second only to immigration (45%), and above the economy (28%) and unemployment (21%).

I write about the general election because it will be held one day after the 23rd anniversary of my mum Vicky’s death on May 6, 1992.  And no one would have been a bigger defender of the NHS than her.

The NHS is what makes me proud to be British. Paying my taxes and National Insurance contributions was never a problem because they were my insurance for old age, as it was for Vicky.

Although I neglected to register in time to vote from abroad, I will follow closely and hope the party that will preserve and give adequate funding to the NHS wins the day.

The NHS is a life-safer and it is unthinkable how many people rely on it to survive.We certainly did.

My mum, Vicky
Vicky’s troubles began in 1984 when we were living in Beirut and she collapsed one July morning from an aneurysm. She came out of a coma five weeks later, albeit with no recent memory. That was difficult and traumatic enough, but after breaking a hip some years later, she was diagnosed with terminal viral liver cirrhosis.

We were in an out of the American University Hospital (AUH) in Beirut where she was then living. But with each visit, the costs were mounting to the point where I had to be accompanied by a cousin carrying a carrier bag full of banknotes to pay the bills. By 1990, this became practically impossible, added to the electricity and water cuts as well as the fighting and bombings. It was time for her to come and live with me in London.

A couple of months later, Vicky had a relapse and was admitted to Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith, a teaching hospital. It was my first experience with the NHS, not having needed it before.

Vicky was there there for over a month. A month in hospital is a long time. You get to know everyone, all the shifts, the routines and how everything works.The doctors were reluctant to let us leave because they said her days were numbered. However, she lived for another year after that, thanks to the excellent medical care she received.

We were initially in a ward but as my sister and I were with my mum all the time, we were moved to a room on our own. With sisters and nurses much too busy and overworked, we did the basics, but the nurses and doctors were on hand for the essential care, reassurance and the numerous cups of tea and Horlicks needed to keep us going.

The room was cleaned daily, without having to tip anyone to do it. The sheets were always clean, the support and kindness in abundance.

What was even more remarkable was the after-hospital care we received.

We were given a wheelchair and visited at home to see what needed to be adjusted to help Vicky and ourselves cope.

We were provided with all the medicine, the pads and all kinds of equipment for the bathroom to make washing easier. A dentist and nurse even came home and set up to treat a problem Vicky had with a tooth. A carer was also arranged for when I had to leave her to go out and do chores.

There is not one thing Vicky needed to make her comfortable at home that was not provided by the NHS.

The NHS, its staff and services were our lifeline for the year and a bit until Vicky’s death that terrible May 6 morning.

So dear Messrs. Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and co, hands off the NHS or rather, hands on it -- it is our treasure!

What is the NHS?

The NHS was launched in 1948. It was born out of a long-held ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth -- a principle that remains at its core. With the exception of some charges, such as prescriptions and optical and dental services, the NHS in England remains free at the point of use for anyone who is a UK resident. That is currently more than 64.1 million people in the UK and 53.9 million people in England alone.

The NHS in England deals with over 1 million patients every 36 hours. It covers everything from antenatal screening and routine screenings such as the NHS Health Check and treatments for long-term conditions, to transplants, emergency treatment and end-of-life care.

In 2014, the Commonwealth Fund declared that in comparison with the healthcare systems of 10 other countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the US) the NHS was the most impressive overall. The NHS was rated as the best system in terms of efficiency, effective care, safe care, coordinated care, patient-centered care and cost-related problems. It was also ranked second for equity.

The NHS employs more than 1.6 million people, putting it in the top five of the world’s largest workforces together with the U.S. Department of Defense, McDonalds, Walmart and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

Funding for the NHS comes directly from taxation. Since the NHS transformation in 2013 the NHS payment system has become underpinned by legislation. When the NHS was launched in 1948, it had a budget of £437 million (roughly £9 billion at today’s value). For 2015/16, it was around £115.4 billion.

The UK Parliament sets the overall budget available to the NHS in England. It also allocates a block grant to each devolved national government to spend on local needs. Each government may choose how much of its block grant to spend on its health care system.