The NHS is about to be overhauled. The government wants it to save £20billion by 2015. What does this mean for us, the ordinary people in this country? What does it mean for the women about to give birth and the young just entering the world? Our children, our grandchildren? And then there is that wonderful phrase 'the ageing population'. What of them? In the cuts ahead how many will fall victims to the government's plans?
The cross-party select committee has said there is
'too much emphasis so far on short-term cuts and 'salami-slicing', instead of re-thinking the way care is delivered.'
The health secretary Andrew Lansley isn't interested. He is a politician and for him, with his wealth and his private health care, the lives of others are not his personal concern.
I came, as a child to this country in the late 1960s, with a mother who had been all but murdered in the country that was our home. She had lost the baby that she carried to full term and a drunken doctor, in charge at the government hospital, had then tried to kill her off with a morphine overdose. She, my mother, arrived on these shores a broken woman, barely able to walk. The first thing we did, fearfully, was register with a GP. We had been told about a wonderful health service in the UK that delivered the same level of care to the whole population. My mother did not really believe this. In the third world country we had just left, good health was for the wealthy, only. But in Britain, so the story went, the rights of every human was respected. The young, the old, the sick, the elderly were all still people. And so, we registered with a doctor in south London.
What followed was astonishing and until the day she died, thirty years later, in St Thomas's hospital, London, this story was one she would repeat.
First she made an appointment that was processed quickly.
The doctor who saw her moved swiftly and with great kindness. She was whisked to a hospital where she was seen, talked to, attended to and subsequently given surgery.
Her wounds healed, she recovered in as far as it was possible.
She went back to that doctor to thank him. He became our family doctor. That is to say he knew us as a family. He understood the dynamics of our family because he had time to do so. Because he wasn't constrained by the '8 minute' rule of consultation that doctors are bound by, today. He had time to practice his considerable skill. He was not a man who was forced to manage his own budget or be an administrator as well. He was, in short, given the space to be efficient. Efficiency and time were not married together but rather quality was the thing that was valued.
Now this wonderful service is being tampered with. It has already had holes knocked in it but what this current government is proposing is much worse. Health experts are lobbying but many of the population remain in the dark. As one health administrator told me recently,
'the rug is being pulled under everyone's feet, but it will be too late before the public realises.'
That's the plan of course! We will not understand the extent of the cuts until it's too late and until that moment when we need to use a service. It will be far too late by then, both for us and for the NHS itself.
For those of us who really love this country, who have spent their working lives here, who wish to put back some of the things that we have taken from it, the time has come for us to stand up for the wonderful service we have so lightly taken for granted. A service that offered an unknown woman the help she could not get any where else in the world.
But for how long?