A society in which its citizens are backboned with an access to highly qualified, free medical hands is not only a society that is featured with security and wellbeing, but is also a one that its citizens are healthy enough to form a community that builds together to thrive together. This is the kind of a society that forms alongside with the existence of an institution as efficient as the National Health Service, commonly referred to as the “NHS”, according to the words of Aneurin Bevan, a past Minister of Health in England, in his essay under the title of “A Free Health Service”, published in 1952. The National Health Service is commonly defined as a public medical care system that was launched on the fifth of July, 1948, in which it is directly funded through taxation, and is built upon the concept of health being fairly provided to all, regardless of one’s wealth (NHS Online Portal, 2016). The aim of this essay is to analyze the reasons why the NHS should continue to be a provider of free health care for citizens in the UK. At first, the humane contribution of the NHS to the society will be evaluated, next, the medical benefits of the NHS will be identified, before examining the quality of the medical care provided by the NHS. Finally, the affirmative financial aspect regarding the NHS’ funding will be criticized.
One main reason behind the necessity of the NHS to continue is that it highly contributes to the spread of the values of fairness and humanity among society members. As different categories of people within a society vary in terms of their income/ wealth, many key factors stand behind it, including social class, regional difference, gender, and ethnicity. The fact that only nine per cent of citizens in the UK are preferring the option of private treatment proves that the majority of the citizens are not able to afford private medical treatment, as they have a lower income than those who are able to, referring to a comparison essay published by The Week Magazine in 2017, under the title of “The NHS vs Global Healthcare Systems”. However, being financially less powerful should never stand as a barrier that prevents the elderly, the infirm, and whoever else who is in need from receiving the medical health care that they deserve. As the NHS provides free health treatment for all UK citizens on an equal basis, it raises many individuals of less financial stability’s opportunity of higher quality treatment. In other words, without the NHS, many of the financially unstable individuals may resort to a lower cost, low quality treatment that is usually done by unauthorized or unlicensed physicians, leading medical faults rate to increase. Accordingly, the NHS plays a direct role in destroying class society barriers between the citizens, as it provides people with an equal quality treatment, despite the distinction in social class, regional difference, gender, or ethnicity.
Another key point that is adopted by the NHS’ supporters is that it is medically efficient. Researchers from the Health Foundation, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust have worked in cooperation on a comparison study, that aimed to compare between the NHS in the UK and health systems in 18 similar developed countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the USA. According to the results, the UK has the largest percentage of generic prescribing among all comparator countries, at 84%, compared to an average of 50% representing comparator countries (King’s Fund, 2018). This indicates the work efficiency of the NHS, as it provides a higher percentage of citizens with the needed prescriptions, being the main health system in the UK. The study goes on to mention one more equally important evidence, which is that the NHS performs well in managing patients with long-term conditions, such as but not limited to diabetes and kidney diseases. This is present in the fact that fewer than one in a thousand people are admitted to hospital for diabetes throughout a given year in the UK, compared to over two in a thousand admitted in Austria or Germany. In more depth, this means that the UK citizens who suffer long-term conditions are being efficiently treated by their general physicians, in which their medical situation is stable in most of the cases, leading less of them to be admitted into hospitals due to a change in their health stability, or due to an increase in the severity of their situation.
Alongside with the fairness and the medical benefits of the NHS, it is also important to examine the quality of the healthcare it provides. Since the creation of the NHS in 1948, it has shown that it successfully incorporates new technologies into its service, adapting to the non-stop revolution in the field of medicine. As new medicines and medical technologies are arising, they come alongside with high costs. According to other healthcare systems, these high costs are usually covered by one’s private insurance, depending on how he/ she can afford to pay. On the contrary, the NHS creates an easy path for everyone to access latest medical technologies, regardless of their financial status. For instance, organ transplants were included in the NHS in 1960; computer tomography in 1972; and keyhole surgery and magnetic resonance imaging in 1980. Furthermore, the NHS has prescribed innovative medicines for patients in need of them as soon as their launch. This was applicable for hundreds of medical conditions, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes (NHS Support Federation, n.d.). An additional proof of the high-quality treatment provided by the NHS is present in the way that it forms a network. The NHS is a network, as it can work cooperatively enabling the organization to exchange valuable ideas, staff, expertise, in addition to new technologies. Moreover, the NHS allows patients to move to other areas of the country if it is necessary for their care. Equally important to mention, the NHS is featured with a high position in the country, which allows it to be a cornerstone for developing public health policies and introducing healthcare strategies. This is beneficial to a high extent for the entire population, in which it makes it easier to spread health initiatives. One example is the anti-HIV public information campaign during the 1980s, which were made far easier by the position of the NHS as a countrywide network. Other examples of public health initiatives include the Stroke - Act F.A.S.T campaign, as well as the introduction of screening for cervical, breast and bowel cancer.
In contrast to the common affirmative perspective about the NHS regarding the financial aspect, the NHS provides the public with an unusually good financial protection from the consequences of ill health. Referring to the comparison study that was firstly presented in the second body paragraph, the NHS has the lowest proportion of citizens who skipped medicine due to its unaffordable cost, in comparison to other health systems in the above-mentioned comparator countries, at a percentage of 2.3% in 2016 compared to an average of 7.2% among the comparator countries (King’s Fund, 2018). In fact, and in reliance upon the 2014 Commonwealth Fund Report, the NHS was ranked first overall on quality, access and efficiency, and was first on many individual measures, compared the healthcare systems of 11 wealthy countries. By the same token, the NHS was chosen to represent a better value for money than the healthcare systems in the US, France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, The Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland and Norway. Among the 11 countries that were included in the analysis, only New Zealand spent less that the NHS on healthcare, however, it ranked 7th on the overall rankings for healthcare, which is a long way behind the NHS (NHS Support Federation, n.d.). One more thing that is worth the mention regarding the NHS business aspect as a publicly-funded organization, is that the NHS does not need to make a profit. All funding is dedicated to making the NHS work for the patient, as the NHS is not beholden to shareholders who demand a valuable return for their investment. From a different view but also regarding the business aspect of the NHS, it is important to note that it has created a lot of job opportunities, being the 5th biggest employer in the world (Grace Mcmeekin, 2017).
As the NHS was born from the core concept of good healthcare being equally available to all, it still comes alongside with the exception of some charges, such as prescriptions, optical services and dental services, not to mention that it is funded through taxation. When in fact, the NHS in remains free at the point of use for all UK residents, weighing more than 64.6 million people in the UK and 54.3 million people in England alone. Privatizing the NHS is a main point of controversy that is currently being discusses and debated upon by higher authorities, however, the UK government should continue to provide free medical care to all, as this contributes to the spread of valuable principles in the society, in addition to being medically beneficial and highly qualified, not to mention its efficiency on the financial aspect.