The NHS Saves My Life Every Day
And I’m not the only one
I have just ordered myself a repeat prescription. I logged on to my GP surgery’s online portal, clicked the boxes next to the medication I need, and by tomorrow afternoon it will be ready to collect from my local pharmacy.
At no point in this process, not even when I pick up my medication, will I have to hand over any money to anybody.
I have a lifelong invisible illness that requires daily treatment. By ‘requires treatment’ I mean ‘I am unable to function without treatment.’ Most employers’ medical insurance would not cover my condition, nor the medication it requires. Most private insurance schemes wouldn’t cover it either. Even Medicaid would not cover it. In almost any country with a fully privatised healthcare system, I would have to buy my own medication. In the USA, this would cost me a pretty $500 a month.
In the UK, I receive my medication for free. Now, to be perfectly clear, I am well aware that I am taxed for the privilege. (Leaving aside for now the fact that without my medications I wouldn’t be taxed at all, because I wouldn’t be able to hold down a job.) But taxed to the tune of $500 a month? By no means. In fact, my medications do not even cost the NHS $500 a month. The NHS pays the grand sum of £50 a year to buy my medication, process it through the system, and dispense it to me. Therein lies the benefit of a single-payer system.
My husband also has a lifelong invisible illness that requires daily treatment. Again, most insurance schemes wouldn’t cover his condition, and those that do cover the condition itself often exclude the specific medications he uses — insisting instead on cheaper alternatives that are proven to be less effective. The cost of his medications alone to a private individual in the USA would be upwards of $1300 a month — let alone anything he might need to spend on equipment and outpatient appointments.
The total cost of his care (including medications, equipment and hospital check-ups) to the NHS is £1800 a year.
To put it all in the same currency and timescale, in a privatised healthcare system, we would pay £1500 a month, minimum, to stay healthy. The NHS pays a tenth of that, for the same outcome. Our invisible illnesses are far from rare, and we are not alone — approximately 15 million people in the UK are living with at least one long-term health condition.
In a privatised healthcare system, we and tens of thousands like us would be unable to afford our medications. Without medication, I would almost certainly be housebound. Without medication, my husband would die.
Because of the NHS, a back injury did not lead to me becoming confined to a wheelchair. Because of the NHS, I have every variety of contraception and family planning available to me, just for the asking. I was born in an NHS hospital, and the NHS saw me through a multitude of childhood illnesses.
I’m not going to pretend that the NHS is perfect. It failed me once, when I needed access to adolescent mental health services that seemed to be practically non-existent then, let alone now. Changes need to be made; it needs to be de-politicised, whistleblowers need to be protected, and it needs to be able to recruit the staff it needs from wherever it needs to recruit them from.
But above all, it needs to be properly funded. I don’t mean bullshit-written-on-a-bus funded, I mean please-tax-me-and-ringfence-the-money funded. And I don’t mean just fund the NHS, but all of the social care and preventative initiatives that keep people away from it in the first place. It’s all part of the system that keeps a civilised society together — the idea that nobody gets left behind.
Because it’s not just the big things. It’s not just that I have the privilege of living in a country where I don’t have to spend all my disposable income on medications that keep me functioning. It’s not just that I won’t have to set up a Go Fund Me page if I develop cancer, or that I won’t face bankruptcy if I’m injured in a car crash.
It’s the little things that are the most important, that perhaps would be the first ones to go. Perhaps a small charge to see your GP wouldn’t be the end of the world? Or perhaps it is, to the person who has to choose between seeing their GP and feeding their child, and maybe that lump isn’t as benign as they hope. Perhaps the closure of the odd A&E unit would be acceptable, so long as there is another one close by? Perhaps not, to the person suffering a heart attack whose ambulance journey is now five minutes longer.
I don’t want to be morbid, but this is the way it is. A free-at-the-point-of-access healthcare system is one of most effective ways to care for the most vulnerable in society, and I can’t see that as anything other than a good thing.
The government is finally beginning to wake up to the fact that something needs to be done if the NHS is to carry on in anything resembling a functional form. If we want it to exist in the future, to carry on saving lives, now is the time to act. Check the NHS funding gap in your local area, find out how your MP is voting on healthcare issues, and write to them to ask them to make sure it is safeguarded. For all of our sakes, because those who rely on the NHS the most might just be the people you least expect.
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