Often overlooked in the creation of our National Health Service is the role of Henry Willink, the Health Minister during the wartime coalition government, who authored the 1944 White Paper which first proposed the founding of a universal healthcare system free at the point of use.
The NHS is one of the enduring institutions of post-War Britain, and maintaining a first rate health service which is available to all regardless of wealth remains one the greatest challenges for governments of all parties. This is especially so now, given the need to reduce public spending as our nation learns to live within its means, whilst simultaneously coping with the effects of an ageing population, the rising costs of treatments, and lifestyle factors which are very different nowadays to those of 1948 when the NHS was created.
All my life, from birth to now, I’ve relied on the NHS. That reliance was tested a few weeks ago when my wife Susan slipped and damaged her wrist while I was marching with the British Legion on Remembrance Sunday. On my return home we made for the Minor Injuries Unit at Spalding’s Johnson Hospital where we were treated with civility, efficiency and skill.
Referral to Johnson Hospital for the initial examination resulted in Susan’s arm being encased in plaster. Speed, professionalism and kindness characterised all that we encountered at the hospital, with the same qualities evident at the next day’s fracture clinic, as well as a fortnight later when we met a consultant.
Just in case anyone thinks my wife got special treatment because of to whom she’s married, I should add that the nurse at Johnson Hospital didn’t know me - because she lives well beyond my constituency, and if the staff in Boston did recognise us it wasn’t obvious. This was our NHS doing the superb work it does every day. So, I’d like, on Susan’s behalf, to thank all those NHS staff we met for their dedication, courtesy and expertise.
Compared with five years ago, there over 8,500 more doctors, over 6,300 more nurses and over 1,900 more midwives helping people, as Susan was helped, every day. Furthermore, the health service budget will go up by £10 billion in the coming years - additional investment which will allow the NHS to offer 800,000 more operations and ensure that patients get the drugs and treatments they need.
This much needed support will secure the future of our health service, ensuring the longevity of its defining principle that healthcare should be free for all and based on clinical need, not on the ability to pay.
Though much has changed in the years since, this maxim remains as important today as it was when Henry Willink first proposed a comprehensive health service back in 1944. In that spirit, I am confident that my gratitude to our NHS workers will be echoed by tens of thousands of those I represent.