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Crystal Oldman: Pride in NHS, but UK must debate future cost of universal healthcare

Open and honest discussions about funding and use of resources are vital to protect the future of the NHS and maintain our universal approach to healthcare, says Crystal Oldman

Open and honest discussions about funding and use of resources are vital to protect the future of the NHS and maintain our universal approach to healthcare, says Crystal Oldman

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the NHS. For those of us who have never known anything other than a health service that is free at the point of access, it is hard to imagine that your health status prior to 1948 was largely determined by your level of disposable income, and making an appointment with a GP or calling a district nurse often depended on how much you could to afford to pay.

Our cherished NHS is a symbol of how we live as a society, with equal access to services for all. The UK population has changed massively since the introduction of a system of universal healthcare, and those who use services the most, such as older people and those with multiple long-term conditions, are growing in number.

For example, people aged over 85 form a much larger proportion of our society today than in 1948, and are set to grow from 1.6 million in 2018 to 3.2 million by 2032.

More productive and efficient

The UK spends far less on health services than other European countries, but if the NHS is to continue to operate as it always has, more investment is required.

The NHS is under constant pressure to achieve more with fewer staff and resources, and the introduction of new roles and models of care are valid and necessary attempts to be more productive and efficient.

While many of these measures are undoubtedly essential for the prudent use of public money, a national conversation is now needed in the UK to see if there is an appetite to maintain our universal approach to healthcare – with an increased tax contribution.

A more realistic level of resource to meet the needs of patients, families and carers would surely be the greatest way to celebrate the NHS’s milestone birthday, and to safeguard its future.


Crystal Oldman is chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute 

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