HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
It’s been 70 years since the National Health Service Act paved the way for Britain’s first comprehensive state-run healthcare system, funded from general taxation and free to all, regardless of means. Over the decades since, those guiding principles define what we think about, and what we expect from, healthcare.
Though some aspects have changed since the NHS was set up in 1948 -charges for dental services and prescriptions, for example- the health service today remains largely true to its immediate post-war incarnation. The population it serves, however, has changed fundamentally over that time, with people typically living much longer, more comfortable lives. The types of conditions that require treatment have changed too, partly because of continuing medical advances.
In 1946 men were expected to live until the age of 66, women until they were 70. Today’s life expectancy for both sexes has risen by 14 years. This welcome change also poses huge challenges for the NHS; people living longer need more care and support, and with the trend likely to continue in years to come, every Government will face the challenge of meeting growing demands with limited resources.
To meet changing needs we must continue to spend more on health. So, I’m proud that this Government is increasing spending by £10 billion a year, money which will allow the NHS to offer 800,000 more operations!
When the NHS was founded its annual expenditure was £437 million – equivalent to £15 billion in today’s money. Last year alone over £100 billion was spent on the NHS, but to do justice to all who need the NHS and all who pay for it in taxes we must look more closely at value for money too; finding ways to ensure that every pound we spend goes further. In future years we won’t be able to avoid the debate about what services and treatments the NHS should or shouldn’t provide, and we will have to get tougher still on those who abuse the system, especially through health tourism and broken appointments.
Here in rural South Lincolnshire it’s critical that services don’t become remote and inaccessible to many people. Our doctor’s surgeries and hospitals must remain locally available, and to that end I’ve been in close touch with the health authorities in our area to ensure that resources are distributed according to local need, including at Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital and, even closer to home, at Spalding’s new Johnson Hospital.
Centralising services always appears good in theory to those most distant from its effect in practice, but, for me, it’s what’s local that counts most.
I know personally how much this matters because my family and I use our local NHS doctors and hospitals. For all of us who rely on the health service it’s vital that we not only protect services, but strengthen them for the challenges ahead.