Monday, June 30, 2008
The NHS at 60
Many people will be writing histories of the NHS at 60. I thought I'd just post a graph from the FT, which looks at waiting lists. To view an enlarged graph, simply click the image. The NHS waiting list reached 1 million for the first time in 1993 and it's all-time high of 1,263,000 in 1998 as New Labour took over and struggled to turn the ship round.
The waiting list is now down to just over 500,000, the lowest it's been since the early 70's - and this despite a growth in the population to 62 million from 56 million in the early 70's, an ageing population profile, plus a myriad of medical breakthroughs and new drugs.
This was why Labour was elected in 1997 - to save the NHS. Without the election of the Labour government, the problems would have worsened and siren voices would have said that it was "impossible" to have socialised medicine and that a move to the American private insurance system was "inevitable". Indeed as late as 2004, "Orange Book" LibDems had joined the Conservatives in proposing a dismantling of the existing NHS.
All that has gone. Labour has resoundingly won the argument. David Cameron goes around the country telling people that he loves the NHS, all talk from the Tories of "starving" the NHS of funds so that private medicine becomes inevitable has died. The French have adopted the NHS's "GP gatekeeper" system as the most cost-effective way to run a tax-payer funded system, abandoning their previous free-for-all system. And the Americans are at last acknowledging that socialised healthcare is the only way to contain ballooning costs - especially as the medical industry in America has a vested interest in over-medicating people and keeping them as "patients". Our healthcare system remains the most cost-effective tax-payer funded system in the world bar the Japanese system.
The Labour party manifesto of 1997 stated simply "We will save the NHS". We've delivered on that and should be very proud.