I’m wearing my NHS Community First Responder shirt today as I am logged on for duty. On this, the 70th birthday of the NHS, I am very aware of how much I and my family owe Aneurin Bevan and the post-War Labour Government for this amazing service.
Take my dad, for instance. He accepted being called up to fight during WW2 but he didn‘t want to kill anyone. So, he first joined the catering corps and then was transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). He was fully prepared to go into the front line of battle unarmed to help the injured. But on the night he was celebrating finishing his training he was walking along an unlit road with a friend when he was hit by a lorry being driven without headlights on. That sort of accident was quite common in the days of the blackout.
My mum was told he would die but Dad was a stubborn man. He survived but his body was badly damaged. He knew that at the end of the war there would be many men listed as disabled so he refused to be put in that category. Instead he fought against the pain and did the job of an able-bodied man at Thames Board Mills near our home in Grays, Essex.
In the 1970s he was told it was at last possible to give him a replacement hip. I will never forget the huge smile on his face when he could, for the first time in about 30 years, put his left leg in front of his right one rather than having to drag it along behind him.
How could we, as a family living on limited means on a council estate, have afforded that if the NHS hadn’t existed?
Or there was the day when I fell out of a tree. Dad wasn’t sure if my arm was broken, so he strapped it up and mum took me on the bus to Tilbury hospital (long gone now). My mum was told that my arm was too swollen for an X-ray to show anything so I was admitted. I don’t remember anything special for children in the ward and I felt very lonely and miserable. But at least my mum didn’t have to pay anything.
Both then and when I had my appendix removed there was that all-enveloping security blanket of the NHS. I was completely unaware that any other system existed – until I went overseas. In the Indian sub continent I became very aware of the problems people faced when they couldn’t afford medical care or insurance. For example – a young man with over 30 per cent burns was told by a hospital administrator that if he or his family couldn’t pay upfront he couldn’t be admitted.
So I don’t take our NHS service for granted – and am very aware of how easily we could lose it as bits get ‘sold off’ to companies which need to make a profit.
Let’s hope the celebrations today will encourage our rich politicians to protect the NHS for those who depend upon it so much.
Below – about six years separate these photographs of my dad. The one of him in uniform was taken just before the lorry hit him. The other shows the impact of that accident upon him.