The NHS is our most precious national institution. No one who watched the Olympics opening ceremony in London in 2012 can have been left in any doubt about the pride we take in it as a nation. The principle of making care available, free at the point of need and regardless of ability to pay, speaks volumes about the kind of country that we want to be.
Nor is it just the British who admire the NHS. In 2017 the independent Commonwealth Fund assessed the NHS as the best healthcare system of eleven leading nations.
We all know it’s under pressure. With life expectancy growing by a staggering five hours every day, demand is growing inexorably. And despite spending more than the OECD average as a share of national income, we need to go further.
That’s why I welcome the announcement of an extra £20 billion per year. This is exactly the kind of ‘visible-from-space’, as some have called it, pledge that makes a big difference. To put it in context, the current budget is around £125 billion a year.
What should it be spent on? On top of cutting out waste and inefficiency, here in Cheltenham there are three front-line priorities that I am calling for. First, additional resources should be used to attract medical staff in hard-to-recruit sectors like emergency medicine, to back our A&E and reverse the CGH downgrade. Second, in a world of surging pressures from phenomena like social media, adolescent mental healthcare should be boosted.
The third strand must concern prevention. 36,000 people in Gloucestershire alone are expected to be diagnosed with diabetes next year. That’s around 5% of the population. At a national cost of £20,000 a second, bearing down on this is critical for overall public health.
This funding boost is hugely welcome. Now we need Cheltenham to reap the benefits.