THE NHS celebrated its 70th birthday this week and, like everyone’s favourite grandmother, it occupies a special place in Britain’s national conscience.
It’s the place where babies come spluttering into the world, where lives are saved and hearts re-started, where family doctors, counsellors, surgeons, nurses, dentists, physios, optometrists and many others can make each day just that little bit easier to cope with.
But, like any dearly loved but ageing body, the NHS is getting creaky.
And — worryingly — the public debate simply isn’t good enough to meet the challenges our health service faces.
Politicians of all parties are falling over themselves to offer the best birthday present for the NHS.
Theresa May kicked off the party with a pledge of £20billion over five years, meaning we will be spending £2,500 per person by 2022/23.
Labour has promised an immediate £5billion emergency injection, and Jeremy Corbyn told me that if he was prime minister he would top the Tory plans, claiming: ‘Austerity costs lives.’
However, pledging more money is the easy bit. The NHS already eats up 19 per cent of total government spending.
If we really want to create a health service fit for the future, we need to look at where the cash is going.
In a live Sky News debate at Guy’s Hospital in central London this week, the expert panellists agreed on one thing: access needs to improve.
In other words, once you are in the system the service is excellent — but it takes too long to get there.
Waiting three weeks to get a GP appointment, or five hours at A&E, or months before an operation, is simply too long. Delaying treatment can make the problem more difficult — and expensive — to sort out.
In the most extreme cases, it can be the difference between life and death.
Pouring in money before filling in the holes in the bucket doesn’t help anybody. On its 70th birthday, let’s have the proper, grown-up debate that befits our beloved health service.
Legalise weed for patients in need?
THERE is one way of raising a significant amount of cash for the NHS — but it’s a controversial one.
Canadian MPs have voted to make their country the first in the G8 to fully legalise cannabis nationwide.
In response, former foreign secretary William Hague called for it to be legalised here, arguing: ‘We should prefer to provide for lawful taxes than preside over increased profits from crime.’
He had an unlikely ally in ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband, who said the ban on cannabis should end for public health reasons.
I couldn’t resist asking Jeremy Corbyn for his views on the subject when I interviewed him on Sophy Ridge on Sunday last weekend. He said criminalising people for possessing small amounts of cannabis is ‘not a particularly good idea’ but also warned: ‘No drug is without consequences.’
Drug policy is a fraught area that sparks strong opinion on both sides, but at least we’re moving towards an adult conversation about it. (NHS, take note.)
Gareth’s next impossible job… sorting out Brexit
There’s been something wonderfully redemptive about Gareth Southgate — who missed a penalty against Germany at Euro ’96 — leading England to win their World Cup shoot-out against Colombia.
Learning from his own misfortune, he told his team they need to ‘own the process’ and ‘not be controlled by it’. Can someone put him in charge of the Brexit negotiations too? (Let’s just hope it doesn’t take 22 years to sort out…)
■ Inspired by the boom in the number of people listening to audio books, I’ve been sucked into the world of podcasts on my morning commute. To hear the best interviews and analysis from my show, just search Sophy Ridge on Sunday on iTunes or Spotify.