NHS 75

The National Health Service, the greatest achievement for the health and wellbeing of all, celebrates 75 years today, 5th July 2023.

Established after the Second World War when the UK was struggling with rationing, building homes and the interest repayments to the USA – for war is a costly business, not just in lives lost, the National Health Service was set up, free at point of need.

Locally, in Orkney, it didn’t get top billing in the newspaper ‘The Orkney Herald’ – that went to the successful export business of shell from Sanday. Further down, readers saw this headline:

‘Balfour’ Passes to State

Today we have a new Balfour Hospital built with Scottish Government funding of £65million and opened in 2019.

The circular main building at Balfour Hospital

Providing modern health facilities does cost money, new equipment, preventative measures like cancer screening kits, skilled staff, and of course, most recently, responding to a deadly and life changing pandemic.

When men and women were called up in 1939 to serve, the state of the health of many citizens was so alarming that politicians of the growing Labour movement vowed to do something about it by creating a National Health Service. Very few people now remember the days when you had to pay a doctor to attend you, you had to pay for your medicines and for any treatment you received. For those with money this was not a problem but for the majority of the population the costs meant that many went without the medical care they required. Simply put – people suffered and died because they couldn’t pay.

Today, in Scotland, we have a NHS which continues to provide free care at point of need which we all contribute to through our taxes. Preventative health initiatives mean that many screening processes, for instance for bowel cancer, can be done simply at home. In Scotland NHS prescriptions are free. No one need worry about paying for medication because all of us contribute via our tax system linked to how much income we have.

In England, there is a different model of Health System, but for the time being there is still the NHS. It is under dreadful stress due to decades of underfunding by successive UK Tory Governments. A consequence of which was the lack of appropriate PPE at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Many doctors were against the setting up of a National Health Service in 1948 but few today would take that opinion. It was a huge undertaking to transfer over the services provided privately to a state administered service, but so important was the creation of the NHS that despite those difficulties, perseverance won the day.

On 5 July we start together, the new National Health Service. It has not had an altogether trouble-free gestation. There have been understandable anxieties, inevitable in so great and novel an undertaking. Nor will there be overnight any miraculous removal of our more serious shortages of nurses and others and of modern replanned buildings and equipment. But the sooner we start, the sooner we can try to see these things and to secure the improvements we all want. My job is to give you all the facilities, resources and help I can, and then to leave you alone as professional men and women to use your skills and judgement without hindrance. Let us try to develop that partnership from now on. Aneurin Bevan , The Lancet 1948

During the pandemic, our health and social service workers remained in the front line, delivering an outstanding service to all. Those same workers are now facing up against a UK Tory Government undervaluing them as pay claims are not met.

The Scottish Government has accepted the 6% pay increase for senior NHS staff recommended by the independent Doctors and Dentists Pay Review Body (DDRB). The award will mean NHS Scotland senior medical and dental staff, general medical practitioners and general dental practitioners will receive a 6% pay increase for this year, backdated to 1 April 2023. For a consultant this means a rise of £5,488 at the bottom of the pay scale and £7,292 at the top. Junior doctors across Scotland have been offered a 14.5% pay uplift over the two year period 2022-24, following negotiations with BMA Scotland. This, however, has not been accepted and industrial action is still on the cards.

160,000 NHS staff in Scotland – including nurses, midwives, paramedics, allied health professionals, porters and others – will receive an average 6.5% increase in pay in 2023-24. All staff will also receive a one-off pro rata payment of between £387 and £939 depending on banding.

There is an uneasy time ahead for the NHS but take time today to remember what life was like before its creation. It remains the most significant positive Act passed by any Government across the UK which has directly benefitted countless millions of lives .

Fiona Grahame

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