In July, our National Health Service will be 70 years old and there will be many people who are celebrating its anniversary. Like the Education Act of 1944, the National Health Service Act of 1946 was something which was going to affect every individual. Setting up a structure which was going to provide health care in every corner of the United Kingdom was a huge achievement, especially in the circumstances of a country recovering from six years of war, and so it came into being on 5th July 1948.
Whenever I visit the hospitals caring for our local communities in Buckinghamshire, I am aware that this is a service which is every bit as complex as the human body. The demands are ever-present and no-one working at any level of the NHS can know exactly what each day will bring. The treatments may have changed but the dedication of the staff remains the same.
There have been huge advances in medicine since the inception of the NHS. Penicillin only came into use in the early 1940s and was seen as a miracle drug: now there are concerns about pathogens which have become resistant to antibiotics. The X-ray was joined and succeeded by CT and other scanners, allowing pinpoint accuracy in diagnosis and treatment of previously intractable diseases such as cancer.
The founding principle of the NHS is that it is “free at the point of use”. Funding the NHS was never going to be simple. The Prime Minister spoke recently about extra funding – increasing by £20.5 billion between now and 2023/2024. Rt Hon Theresa May MP said that, while this represents growth significantly higher than that of the economy as a whole, there needs to be extra spending, to which all taxpayers will need to contribute in a fair and balanced way.
There has long been a convention against ‘hypothecation’, which is where taxation is directed towards a particular purpose. In this, the 70th year of our NHS, there are going to be discussions about whether this convention may change to permit taxation to be raised specifically for improving the health service.
This article first appeared in the Buckinghamshire Advertiser on 28th June 2018.