The UK National Health Service

First things first, this is NOT a politically-motivated post. This has been prompted by conversations I had with other attendees at HU Connexion '18. They were interested to know how the UK system works (or doesn't).

Historical background

The National Health Service (NHS) was launched in 1948 (70 years old this July!) It was set up in response to calls for a unified medical service, which dated back to the start of the 20th Century.

Wheels were finally put into motion following a 1942 report which recommended the creation of "comprehensive health and rehabilitation services for prevention and cure of disease". Following the 1945 election, Aneurin Bevan was named Health Minister and set about creating a service which was based on three core principles:

  • That it meet the needs of everyone
  • That it be free at the point of delivery
  • That it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay

These three principles have guided the development of the NHS ever since.

How is it funded?

Everybody in the UK (who is able to) pays tax, which goes into a pot which funds the different aspects of the Welfare State. In the UK this covers all government spending which is intended to improve the health, education, employment and social security of everyone in the country.

The NHS is 98.8% funded by general taxation and National Insurance contributions (paid by workers and employers), plus small amounts from patient charges for some services – including optometry, dentistry and prescription items.

And that's it! To this day, UK residents are not charged for the majority of their health treatment

What does it mean for people with MS?

Being a person with MS, this means that any costs to do with my primary medication have been met – in my case, this has meant Rebif (interferon beta-1a), Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate) and currently Tysabri (natalizumab).

Prescription costs for medical costs which are related to my MS (e.g. Baclofen, Catheters, Mebeverine, Gabapentin) still need to be paid for. But short courses of Physiotherapy or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are free to me, as are consultations with my Doctor and MS Team.

Are there any problems?

There are problems with the NHS, don't get me wrong. Having a system which is universal and based on immediate need can lead to issues with waiting times.

Also there are huge demands placed on the service which can lead to misunderstandings such as this one:

As lots of commenters pointed out, the demonstrations in London were IN SUPPORT of the NHS. If they were against anything it would be funding issues which plague the service along with Doctors and Nurses poor pay and working conditions.

GPs are increasingly overworked which can impact on their own health and that of their patients. A recent survey stated that Intensive Care Units were short of 12 nurses each on average.

One person at HUConnexion18 asked me if immigration had caused problems with the NHS. I pointed out that the vast majority of people involved in my treatment are immigrants – including, oddly, a large number of Greek Neurologists. The NHS would collapse without migrant workers.

And at present, no-one has any idea of what effect Brexit will have. Just last week week, visa issues for migrant workers have been blamed for delays in some patients’ cancer treatment.

A confession

OK, I admit it. I was being a bit disingenuous saying this article wasn’t political.

Increasingly – all over the world – health care systems and support for people with long-term conditions are being weaponised for political purposes.

I’ve always felt that the personal was political and vice versa. Being disabled and / or chronically ill is more and more a political act. If you have an opinion about the sort of healthcare which is available to you, it will have a political edge one way or another.

Since its inception the NHS - the world’s largest publicly funded health service - has been a talking point with different political parties having wildly divergent opinions about it how it is best run and funded.

People in the UK can opt to pay for Private Health Care. But on the whole the NHS is generally held to be a GOOD THING and something to be proud of.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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