At 75 our NHS is deserving of our care and attention - Alex Cole-Hamilton

At 75 the NHS is rightly our best-loved national treasure, says Alex Cole-HamiltonAt 75 the NHS is rightly our best-loved national treasure, says Alex Cole-Hamilton
At 75 the NHS is rightly our best-loved national treasure, says Alex Cole-Hamilton
I once made it from Blackhall to the Meadows in eight minutes without breaking any rules. I was in an ambulance and under blue light being rushed with my infant daughter to the old Sick Kids after she’d swallowed a 50 cent piece and I’d had to resuscitate her.

I have never felt more gratitude than I did to that ambulance crew and then the surgical team who removed the coin from her throat under general anaesthetic.

Each of us can think of a time when the NHS has been there for us or someone we care for and as we mark it’s 75th anniversary, it seems like a good time to acknowledge its role in all of our lives and to recognise what will be needed to sustain it for the future. The National Health Service was forged out of the rubble and poverty of war. It was the brainchild of a Liberal – William Beveridge and delivered by Labour Minister Aneurin Bevin.

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Whilst free healthcare was only extended to the whole country in 1948, it was in part modelled on a much earlier experiment in rural Scotland. In 1913 tuberculosis was rife and healthcare provision sparse in the crofting communities of the Highlands. Communities struggled to retain the doctors working there and up to 25 per cent of deaths were uncertified.

Against this bleak backdrop, the Highlands and Islands Medical Service was created. This state-funded scheme provided a guaranteed minimum salary for GPs, paid doctors mileage for their car journeys and equipped nurses with motorbikes so they could get to patients quickly. This became a blueprint for the National Health Service we all know and cherish today.

For the past three quarters of a century, the NHS has saved countless lives and improved countless more with the support it offers us. A combination of the demands of an aging population and of a global pandemic, coupled with decades of structural underfunding and ministerial disinterest has jeopardised its ability do so.

While this SNP-Green Government fritter away time on all the wrong things, waiting lists spiral, the number of people stuck in hospital soars and staff are left to carry the ever-growing burden.

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On this anniversary, the Scottish Liberal Democrats want Humza Yousaf to take a number of steps to get our NHS back on track. We need a new plan that will create safe staffing levels, focus on retention and recruitment and invest in more training places.

We need the government to scrap their planned billion-pound takeover of social care and spend it on staff and services instead. We need new specialist clinics and in-home support for long-Covid sufferers.

We need to train more mental health professionals so people can access help fast. We need to reform funding structures for dentists to cut red tape and enable everyone to be seen. We need to back local health services so people can get the care they need closer to home.

When I remember that night in the ambulance with my daughter, our fate was held in the hands of strangers in whose ability I had absolute faith and confidence. The NHS was there for us when we most needed it. At 75 it is rightly our best-loved national treasure, but its survival and its ability to cope is not inevitable, we need to care for it in the way it has cared for all of us.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and MSP for Edinburgh Western

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