NHS70: how good is our health service?

Saturday 29 September, 15:1516:45, The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, B2 5NYUK satellites

This debate is part of Battle of Ideas Birmingham – buy tickets here.

At a recent NHS birthday celebration in a hospital, professionals and patients sang, danced, and beat drums together. Nurses and behind-the-scenes technical employees were cheered. Attendees found the atmosphere uplifting and motivating. It evoked memories of the London Olympics opening ceremony, and its focus on the NHS as a source of British pride.

However, it’s also true that most people know that the NHS has some problems. The ambition to meet everyone’s health needs has long faced barriers, with its founder, Nye Bevan, resigning from the cabinet as soon as 1951 over the introduction of charges for spectacles, dental care and prescriptions (although he also protested about the amount of spend on medicine). The NHS does very well on some health outcome scores, but overall it lags behind some other comparable European health systems, like Germany and Ireland. In fact, the British government’s own analysis points to inequality impacting health outcomes, for example child mortality rates and life expectancy.

NHS England’s five-year plans aspire for safety from danger, effective interventions for the journey from cradle to grave, and experiences to enhance your individual wellbeing. So what’s the problem? Do we need a rethink, or to start all over again? With these utopian aspirations who isn’t the NHS serving?