Last weekend marked the NHS’s 72nd anniversary. Nigel Lawson, reflecting on his time as Cabinet Minister, famously remarked ‘the NHS is the closest thing the English have to a religion’. If so, this year has witnessed renewed devotion, with public rounds of applause, rainbows proudly displayed in windows, and large-scale fundraising efforts.
Of course, this year we’ve had even more reason than usual to recognise the amazing people who make up our National Health Service as they lead the national fight against COVID-19. Putting themselves at risk, often in appalling conditions, with inadequate personal protective equipment.
While it’s great to see people recognising the various ways public services play an essential role in all of our lives, there are two things which do give cause for concern.
The first is that the NHS was set up to ensure the medical needs of our national community would be met free at the point of use and paid for out of taxation, the fact that members of the public are having to fundraise and help supply materials to the service rather than it getting what it needs from the Government should be a source of national shame.
The second is how quickly we move on from an issue. It is great that people are acknowledging the sacrifices being made by NHS personnel now, but when COVID is gone, will people remember? Will they remember when it comes to the issue of the NHS needing an extra £10bn? Will they remember when it comes to nurses being forced to visit food banks due to low pay? Will they remember when they are next to choose a Government to run it.
Or, is this something people feel now but will forget, while conditions in the NHS are allowed to degrade year-after-year? So, that the next time we face a pandemic, or indeed need it for any other reason, we no longer have an NHS worth the name. Our NHS heroes have stood by the country through this pandemic, as they have for the last 72 years, when the time comes will we stand with them?