The NHS is the closest thing the UK has to a national religion. No wonder: it unites people across social and class divides. But it is also under pressure, underfunded, and unravelling at the seams. When the NHS was founded, children died of whooping cough and tuberculosis, and the average person lived less than 50 years. Now childhood deaths are rare and we expect to live almost twice as long. Many of us swallow dozens of daily medications, and the NHS promises to keep treating us, rich or poor, according to need. But as social care budgets are slashed, the pressure on the NHS has reached a critical level – along with accusations of high death rates, lazy, uncaring staff morale, and unnecessary deaths at the weekend.
Margaret McCartney, author of The Patient Paradox and Living with Dying, argues that the last few decades of short-term political policies have caused lasting damage to the NHS, wasting money, time, harming patients, and damaging staff morale. Instead, we need a new realisation of the founding principles of the NHS, one where patients and professionals work together to create an evidence based – not a party political – NHS. It is the only future it can survive in.