Britain once swapped an expensive empire for a National Health Service… Today–?

When I was growing up in England in the 1950s and 1960s, we were all pretty proud of the NHS. It really did a lot to define “British-ness” at a time when the Empire that had done that for previous generations was being unceremoniously sloughed off. At least our generation could be quietly proud that, thanks to Britain’s post-WW2 Labour government, we had a health care system that was the envy of the world!

The NHS was reliant from very early on, on large numbers of skilled and unskilled workers recruited from some of the further reaches of empire. And it really delivered! There was a weekly mother-and-baby clinic in the clubhouse of the public-ish park right across from our house. There were regular check-ups and vaccinations and for many years no out-of-pocket costs for anything. The NHS was funded from central government funding, essentially by diverting funds for this basic human need from those saved by no longer having to run a vast, well-armed empire. (My late friend and mentor Mike MccGwire once estimated that empires, which through the end of the 19th century were massively profitable for the European states that ran them, became a net drain on revenues in around 1919. The Jallianwallah Bagh massacre, and so on…)

In the 1980s, my US-born spouse and I were touring Scotland and he fell a little sick. We walked into the office of a local General Practitioner and after a short wait he got a prescription for antibiotics. The whole thing cost him just £2.

And today?

My niece is a senior Accident & Emergency doc at a hospital in South-West England. I learned over the weekend that their A&E dept is so completely backed up and clogged that she’s been having to treat patients as they lie in the ambulances lined up outside the main doors.

The accounts of what is happening in today’s NHS, after the past 15 years of the Tories’ gross misrule, are truly shocking. Read for example, this account from NHS consultant physician Peter Neville, which I compiled from his Twitter account. Here are some quick excerpts:

You can find many other similar accounts on social and other media coming from the U.K…

Meantime, what has this government been spending money on? You guessed it! Military spending. In what looks like a desperate attempt to become the “Global Britain” that Boris Johnson promised would emerge after the country’s exit from the EU, military spending is soaring sharply.

Some of this related to the London’s full-throated support for the war in Ukraine: £7.4 billion already pledged there, and doubtless more to come. Some is likely related to London’s support for the “AUKUS” military alliance in the Pacific. And a stunning £58.8 billion is budgeted over the next ten years for acquisitions for the UK’s nuclear arsenal. (Why????)

The architects of the once pioneering NHS must be turning in their graves. (Where they will be joined, over the weeks and months ahead, by scores of thousands of Brits of all ages who are now unable to access basic decent medical services. Dear God alive.)

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