York Press Column – 70th anniversary of our NHS
July 11, 2018
Last Thursday, I attended a special choral celebration at York Minster to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the foundation of our National Health Service on 5th July 1948. I was glad to welcome the then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to York to attend this event, and the experience of seeing a great modern national institution celebrated within the walls of a great and ancient one was profound and moving.
Establishing universal health provision was a lasting historic achievement of the British people in the 20th century. At a time of significant political division on a whole range of issues, it is instructive to look back to the time of the NHS’s creation. The health service was born of a broad consensus at the end of the Second World War that the government needed to create a comprehensive healthcare system, free at the point of use, extending and unifying existing services.
The best minds of both major political parties worked for the creation of the NHS. We should rightly pay fulsome tribute to the great Labour Minister of Health, Nye Bevan, who oversaw the creation of the NHS, but also remember his Conservative predecessor Sir Henry Willink, who published the first government proposals for a national health service.
The NHS is symbolic of our national commitment to care for one another as a community, and provides people across the country with security and peace of mind regarding their health. This anniversary should be a time when we remember all NHS staff, past and present, who have made the NHS what it is, and have done so much for us all.
As someone who lives locally with a young family, I rely as much as anyone on York’s NHS, and am firmly committed to doing all I can to ensure it can always provide the highest standards of care for local residents. Our local health service has been one of my main priorities since I was first elected in 2010, and I work continuously to assist my constituents on health matters.
In recent weeks I have acted to support residents concerned about appointment booking problems at the Kimberlow Hill GP surgery in Heslington, speaking with the surgery directly and meeting with the Vale of York NHS Clinical Commissioning Group. I also raised the need to improve bowel cancer screening directly with Theresa May in the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions in May.
We should not mark this anniversary without acknowledging that the NHS faces definite challenges in terms of meeting demand for services. The York Hospital Trust alone performed 58,400 more operations and 83,465 more diagnostic tests in 2016/17 than in 2009-10. One of the most significant reasons for this soaring demand is the (very welcome!) fact that we are all living much longer, and we have to adjust our health service to meet the substantial and growing test of an ageing society. There will be an estimated 1.5 million more people aged over 75 in just ten years’ time.
I am therefore encouraged by the government’s announcement last month that it will meet this challenge by investing an additional £20.5 billion a year into the health service by 2023-24, supporting a 10 year plan for the future of the NHS. This multi-year funding settlement is designed to give the NHS longer-term certainty over future funding levels, allowing it to plan ahead to meet demand.
Of course, this all costs money, and I am glad to see Ministers are being upfront in indicating that this new investment will have to be funded in part by a small increase in taxation. While I strongly believe in limiting the tax burden on hard-working York residents, it is ultimately preferable to fund this NHS investment through a limited and balanced tax increase than through irresponsible borrowing that would create a debt burden for us, our children and grandchildren, and threaten our prosperity and ability to fund public services in future. Ultimately, tax is the price we pay to live in a civilised, healthy society.
I strongly believe that this 70th birthday for our NHS should be a moment to renew our national commitment to healthcare for all, and agree we will do what is necessary to sustain and improve this. York’s NHS will continue to be a top priority for me in the months and years ahead.