Happy 75th Birthday to the NHS…

ANNIVERSARIES are very much at the forefront of my mind of late. The next, the NHS turns seventy-five on 5 July. Yet the 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement is still very present in my mind and the two have sort of fused into this thought piece, about the role the NHS plays in my life and the lives of others here.

A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) when I turned thirty has made me a frequent user and constant contemplator of the NHS. A yearly consultation, a yearly MRI, quarterly blood tests and daily medication – free healthcare at the point of use_ my MS alone costs £20k a year, not a far cry from my annual salary. I am blessed to have the NHS, I do not believe that I could afford my chronic, lifelong condition if I lived anywhere else. The weight of a chronic condition is heavy and when I read of the insurance obstacles faced by those suffering elsewhere in the world, I wonder how we are so harsh on the NHS. It is not only MS treatments, but also cancer treatments, insulin for diabetics, inhalers for asthma, the list goes on.

The NHS not only saves lives here in NI /the north of Ireland, but it also sustains them. The NHS or the Health and Social Care Trusts as we now know it, employs in and around 25% of the population here. That is much higher than the average of the rest of the UK. I am employed by a HSC Trust. My parents also worked for various incantations of the Trusts pre-retirement, three-fifths of my family have at one time been employed by a HSC Trust. This too can be attributed to the Troubles; the overreliance of our population on public sector jobs remains a legacy of the troubles.

The NHS is in crisis. Professor Sir Mike Richards has said that the NHS stands on a “burning platform”. We all know changes are needed, the stats are in the paper every day screaming of underperformance and funding is central to this, as it is in every other sector in NI/north of Ireland. What the papers fail to note, is that the ‘all in a day’s work’ resilience of our doctors and nurses on the floors of our hospitals and in our communities never falters, despite the coalface. Tomorrow, should you fall ill or sustain an injury there will be an avenue through which you can access treatment for free. I am so thankful for the NHS.

I attended the GFA25 debate at Queens University Belfast on 26 March and one of the opening speakers noted that if there was minute silence held for each person who lost their life to the troubles it would take 60 hours_ 60 hours of silence. There was a mention of those who were physically injured, numbering in the tens of thousands and that is where my mind got ticking. Victims of bomb blasts, gun shots and paramilitary style beatings I am sure were not what was in mind when the precious institution that is the NHS was rolled out in 1948. Injuries that hospital staff were neither trained nor prepared for when the troubles erupted in the late 1960s. But all were attended to by doctors and nurses who just did what they had to do. That is the NHS I know and cherish, rising to meet any challenge that it faces with compassion and kindness.

Since the GFA25 festival there have been almost daily utterances of, ‘is it time for a border poll?’. This is only bolstered by the fact that there is no sitting assembly and no rumbles of a return any time soon. When the border poll comes, I hope people think of the NHS and ask the question – what is your alternative for the NHS and how much will I pay for it? Who will employ a quarter of the population of NI/ north of Ireland? Please do not allow a vote without a plan to be our fate, say no to votes on a notion, give us tangible answers then send us to the polls.

What would our future look like without an NHS? We are all still suffering the devastation of a blind vote on Brexit, a border poll must offer a view of the path that will take us beyond a ‘yea or nay’. An if/then approach please. For the next 60 hours, why don’t you think about that? I know I do; where would I work? How would I afford my condition?

The one thing I do know is, that if civil unrest were ever to revisit our streets, the doctors and nurses will be the first responders once again. Oh, and despite the Heath watchdog’s suggestion to ban cake in work, I will be having a piece in celebration of the seventy-fifth birthday of the NHS.

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