NHS at 70: We love it but fear for its future - see our poll results

Our love affair with the NHS is as strong as ever as it marks its 70th birthday – but we have fears for its future.

Staff at Princess Royal Hospital celebrate today’s 70th birthday of the National Health Service
Staff at Princess Royal Hospital celebrate today’s 70th birthday of the National Health Service

A Shropshire Star survey today reveals how 86 per cent want the free-for-all principle to remain.

But more than one in three of those questioned say they are concerned about the future. And more than 60 per cent said they would be willing to pay more in tax to ensure it is adequately funded.

Today’s Star survey comes as new figures reveal the NHS in England is today around 100,000 workers short, including 36,000 nurses and almost 10,000 doctors.

In Shropshire, the future of hospital services remains under the spotlight, with the latest Future Fit consultation meeting being held last night in Ludlow.

People in the town had their say at a drop-in meeting over plans to create a single emergency centre, probably based at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. It would be supported by urgent care centres both at the RSH and at Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital.

The bitterness surrounding the consultation was illustrated today by a furious response by the man leading Future Fit to allegations that the process was “bogus”.

Dr Julian Povey, the chairman of Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said he was “insulted” by the claims from campaign group Defend Our NHS.

Dr Povey said: “I have spent my whole career in the NHS looking after people.

“I see my role as chairman as a way of ensuring there is clinical influence, to get the best we can for patients in Shropshire, and to try to remove inequities we have in Shropshire.

“I take offence at the suggestion I am taking part in a sham.”

Today’s 70th anniversary of the NHS was marked by staff at PRH, who formed a giant 70 in the grounds of the hospital.

Today Shrewsbury GP and British Medical Association member Mary McCarthy wrote an open letter in the Shropshire Star in which she said the fundamental reason the NHS was founded remained relevant today.

She said the system of family GPs worked and should continue to be supported and funded in the future.

Dr McCarthy said: “I believe that the NHS is the best idea that this country has ever had. It is not just that it has taken away financial pressures from the sick, those who are least able to bear them, it has altered the mindset of those working in the NHS.

“It is because we have nothing to do with money, that we concentrate on the patient themselves. It is because we are not worried about cost, that we continue working above and beyond our stated and paid-for hours. It is because it is free at the point of use that so many, working in the NHS, give so freely of their time, their expertise, their skills and their care.”

Over the last 70 years, the NHS has transformed the health and wellbeing of the nation and become the envy of the world.

It has made huge medical advances and improvements to public health, meaning we can all expect to live longer lives.

Survey results

As it marks its 70th birthday today, more than 760 people have shared their views in an online survey launched by the Shropshire Star to find out how you feel the NHS is run, its future and how it will be funded in years to come.

It is a time of huge advances in medicine, but also an escalation of costs, and about two thirds of those who responded to the survey are pessimistic over the future of the national health service.

A massive 85 per cent of those who took part said they were proud of the NHS, with 84 per cent describing their experiences as ‘good’.

Four out of five people said they had used the NHS in the last six months.

But half of those who responded said they felt it was run badly, with just 14 per cent saying it was run well, and 61 per cent said they would be willing to pay more in tax to fund the service.

A huge majority did not want to see it replaced by an American-style private insurance system, and just over half said they trust the Conservative government more with its future.

Theresa May recently revealed that the NHS in England is to get an extra £20bn a year by 2023 as a 70th “birthday present”.

Although it means the £114bn budget will rise by an average of 3.4 per cent annually, it is still less than the 3.7 per cent average rise the NHS has had since 1948.

The health service was created in the middle of the 20th century when the biggest threats were infectious diseases such as TB and polio, but today it is having to deal with obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancers and dementia, which are driven more by lifestyle choices.

The growing population and number of people with long-term health conditions is also piling the pressure on services, with data on A&E attendances showing they increased by 1.9 million in total between 2011/12 and 2016/17 – the equivalent of an extra 5,100 more attendances each day.

In Shropshire, the NHS is going through a period of huge change, with Future Fit set to shake-up how hospital services are delivered.

The government has announced up to £312 million for the scheme and a public consultation has now been launched over the controversial plans, which involve having a single emergency centre for the county.

There are also changes on the horizon for maternity services and health bosses are reviewing how care can be delivered closer to home.

Future Fit:

Health chiefs, MPs and community campaigners have praised the NHS and welcomed the recent announcement of government investment.

Some are confident it has a bright future, while there is also recognition that changes must be made to make it more efficient.

Ludlow MP and former Health Minister Philip Dunne says we should be grateful for the handwork and dedication of staff who make the service what it is.

He said: “This has been a good year for the NHS in Shropshire, securing £312m of capital funding for the Future Fit programme, and an extra £20bn per year announced by the government to go into the NHS nationally by 2023.

“I was pleased to see this survey from the Shropshire Star readers supports national surveys of continuing high public support for the NHS and strong patient experience.

“There is a recognition within the NHS that the models of healthcare provision in the past will not work for the future – people are living longer, so requiring treatment for longer with more chronic conditions.

“The NHS is now drawing up its long term plan to use new ways of working, to focus more on prevention and become more efficient, so frontline services are as effective as possible. I am convinced the NHS has a bright future.”

Welcomed

Telford MP Lucy Allan also welcomed the funding boost saying it shows the government is listening and taking action to invest in the future of the NHS.

She said: “There is no doubt that almost everyone accepts the need to pay more to ensure the NHS will be there for them and their families for years to come.

“If we are to seek more money from the taxpayer then we also have a duty to reduce the waste and inefficiency that has been a feature of the NHS for too long. We must use the NHS with care and value this scarce resource.

“We must honour appointments, use A&E only when necessary and take responsibility for our own health.

“I am also pleased that the new Home Secretary is taking action to address the shortage of medical staff by lifting the cap for tier two visas for doctors and nurses.

Debate

“This is a welcome step forward and will boost the delivery of NHS services for those who need it most.”

Wrekin MP Mark Pritchard says the government investment in the NHS is good news but added that more needs to be done to make it more efficient and improve clinical and medical outcomes for patients.

Meanwhile, Shropshire North MP Owen Paterson has called for a “rational, level-headed debate about the future of healthcare provision in this country, setting out a vision informed by what we can learn from abroad”.

He said: “In other areas of public policy, we recognise the value of international best practice, yet our discussions of the NHS remain inward-looking and apparently stuck on the notion that it cannot be otherwise.

“It is almost as though we are afraid of what we might find out if we look beyond our shores.

“Over 25 countries in the world now provide universal health coverage, so we must put an end to this stifling misconception that the only alternative to our present arrangements would be a US-style system of private insurance.

“We can, instead, learn from the high degree of patient choice available in countries like Australia, Japan and South Korea.

“We can look at the so-called “social health insurance” systems in place in Belgium, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Ensure

“Such systems achieve universal coverage just as in the UK, but do so with a range of means-tested insurance premium subsidies, community rating and risk structure compensation.

“In so doing, they ensure high-quality healthcare is available even to the poorest, including the homeless.”

Jan Ditheridge has a nursing background and worked her way up to become chief executive of Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust, running community services in the county.

She said: “I have worked for the NHS for nearly 40 years and every one of those days I’ve watched NHS workers of all grades and professions come to work intending to do a good job and returning home having done something remarkable for patients and their families.

“In the 1940s life expectancy for men was 63 and for women was 68 – in 2010 it was 79 for men and 83 for women. I cannot imagine a world without the NHS.”

Dr Julian Povey is a GP in Pontesbury and chair of Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group, which together with Telford & Wrekin CCG drew up the Future Fit plans.

Options

Th proposals include two options which base an emergency centre for the county either at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital or Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital, with the alternative site taking on responsibility for planned care.

Urgent care centres would be set up at both sites.

Dr Povey has praised the NHS but says changes are needed in Shropshire to make sure it is fit for the future.

He said: “The NHS is an amazing model. It gives everyone access to the same services.

“It has been encouraging to secure £312m of funding for Future Fit this year. We have to think about where we are.

“There are problems around staffing and the emergency departments. We need to maintain services in Shropshire.”

He says the news of the investment has already encouraged more consultants to apply to Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust.

It is also hoped that separating emergency and planned care will bring other benefits such as the need to cancel less planned operations.

Dr Povey added: “We have a make sure there is a community model as well which is why we are looking at Shropshire care closer to home.”

Gill George, chairwoman of Shropshire Defend Our NHS, has long criticised the Future Fit plans and has called for them to be axed.

She says funding for services must be addressed.

“The additional money announced by the government recently is a small start,” she said.

“It is not enough to address the damage done by the constant cuts since 2010.

“Our NHS here is falling further behind.

“Other developed countries are managing to find the money to offer good quality healthcare.

“In England our NHS and social care is crumbling.

“It’s an exceptionally worrying state of affairs.

“The NHS belongs to all of us. We all need it. Unless we have some sharp change in government policy we will lose the NHS in any recognisable state.

“Let’s unite and stand together with our NHS on its 70th birthday and make sure it makes it through to its 80th birthday.”

Top Stories

More from the Shropshire Star

UK & International News