Opinion

Charging to access the NHS would be a backward step

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My parents were born in the 1920s, between the War to End All Wars (misplaced optimism) and the second world war (jaundiced realism).

When they were children they knew what it was like not to have enough money to pay for trips to the doctor.

Their parents had lived in the shadow of the work house, and many of the hospitals they could not afford to attend in the 20s and 30s were housed in those same dark daunting buildings.

My father fought in the war and came back from Burma to a land fit for heroes, where, within three years, there was a tax-funded welfare system that was free at the point of delivery for everyone.

They lived their lives safe in the knowledge that their children would have a good education and access to high-quality health services, even when my dad was unemployed and the family was skint.

The recent suggestion, by former health Labour minister Lord Warner, that people should pay a £10 a month ‘membership charge’ to fund local NHS services would have my parents turning in their graves.

I can hear my dad saying: ‘We pay taxes and national insurance to fund the health system. If they need more money, put taxes up.’ My mum would be nodding alongside him.

When it comes down to it, it’s all about choice.

As a nation we can choose to pay for a publically funded national health service through taxes, or we can leave it up to individuals to fund their own care through a variety of insurance schemes, with the risk that many won’t be able to afford them.

The late Labour politician Tony Benn once said: ‘The most socialist thing we ever did was the most popular thing we ever did - the NHS.’

He also said: ‘If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people.’

Well, you can’t say fairer than that.

About the author

Colin Parish is editor of Learning Disability Practice and Mental Health Practice
Follow Colin on Twitter at: @editorLDPandMHP