I never cease to marvel at the amazing legacy our grandparents and parents have given us, after the trauma and turmoil of two world wars – our National Health Service.
Yes, there are (many) things about it that could be better. Yes, it has been hammered by successive Tory governments, and continues to be so. Yes, it has been starved of training and goodwill for staff, and now has to rely on poaching staff from other countries. But, but, but….
My extended family has good cause to be thankful for it. My mother and my mother-in-law both received excellent care at different times in their lives for different problems. Our children and their partners have at times needed to rely on it, and it has served them well. I have recently had (minor) surgery to restore some lost vision and prevent further deterioration. The treatment and care I received were speedy, effective and exemplary.
And none of us had to worry about paying for it, none of us had to fear the financial consequences of receiving medical care, or the health and other consequences of not being able to afford to do so. None of us had to make those difficult choices, or were prevented from making choices because we simply couldn’t afford the necessary treatment.
A far cry from the place Big Business, Big Pharma, and much of the Tory Party and their friends would like us to be in.
I find all the talk of the ‘impossibility’ of continuing to fund the NHS in these ‘times of austerity’ completely unconvincing, especially when I recall the times in which it was first established. On the contrary, we all make choices about how to spend whatever (much or little) money we have, and governments are no different in that. Tax cuts? or increased tax paid by all, for increased benefits for those who need them? We make the choice every time we vote.
As a society and as individuals, we can choose to see paying tax as a public good and something to be celebrated. Because in my opinion paying tax and sharing out what we have more equally is the first step towards a fairer, more equal, healthier, happier, and ultimately safer and more cohesive society.
We listen and watch with envy the vast difference in the life chances between our children and their partners and friends, and those of our Danish friends (and indeed our nephew and his wife in Sweden). We marvel at how the Danish ones have all been able to buy their own (modest but more than adequate) homes. How (financially) free access to university and training courses have enabled them to achieve professional qualifications and find reasonably paid work with good working conditions. How excellent maternity and paternity rights and pay have enabled them to have the children they dearly want.
But all that comes at a price. They (and everyone else) pay far, far more in taxes then we do.
We could make that choice. I would make that choice. Would you? If only our political system were such that those of us who do make that choice could have our voices heard, loud and clear.
And as for me, today, I’m rejoicing in the fact that my gradually reducing vision has been restored, that my world is brighter and bigger than I realised, and that I can now open my eyes when I want to.
Earlier this month, in the run up to the opening of the 2016 Olympics, we watched a fascinating BBC TV programme about the making of the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics. We marvelled at the atmosphere of optimism and pride that we shared at that moment; and felt sad to see where the intervening 4 years have brought us.
But for now, let’s remember that astonishing opening ceremony, that moment when we came together and celebrated our country and our heritage, and most of all our NHS.
“Play the drum for your mum, and she’ll watch it on TV”.
Boom boom. So many dedicated volunteers, so much given for free. If you want to relive it for a moment, watch it here. And if you’re in the UK and would like to catch the TV programme, you can watch it here (an edition of the Imagine series).