The National Health Service (NHS) is 75 years old today and this post is a celebration of the complicated, humane, and embracing service that’s looked after me for almost forty years. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without the NHS. It’s cared for me through so many challenging and frightening moments. It’s kept me safe and mobile when my body and brain seemed determined I should be on the ground. Its existence has meant I’ve never had to weigh up if I can afford to seek help or deal with insurance companies in order to receive care.
I’ve been supported by a wide range of specialist teams, some of which I imagine people wouldn’t even know exist, like the orthotics team who made custom boots and splints for me to prevent tics damaging my ankles. Or the special care dentists who look after my teeth with incredible skill and compassion – a potentially risky job because of my tics. And the wheelchair service team who test potential new products on my chairs because if they can withstand my super wobbly body they’ll probably withstand most things!
As a disabled person my experiences of the NHS isn’t always completely positive though. I’ve noticed that it’s in hospitals that my support workers are more likely to be spoken to, rather than to me. It’s also telling that Fat Sister, who’s an NHS doctor starts off appointments when she’s supporting me by describing my achievements (she doesn’t do this in any other setting) She does this to make sure her colleagues don’t make any assumptions about me just because I’m a noisy, wobbly wheelchair user. It’s because I love and believe in the NHS that I think it’s important to acknowledge the inequalities that exist within the system. Only if we’re open about these issues can they improve.
Over the last few months we’ve witnessed exactly how important a robust healthcare system is to every area of our lives. The safety net of the NHS has caught me and people I love on numerous occasions, and it’s essential that it’s valued and invested in as a whole.
For ten weeks in March, April and May people across the UK clapped for keyworkers every Thursday evening. Here at the castle we also played medically inspired reggae! After each clap I did a drawing that summed up our mood. To mark the 75th birthday of the NHS I’m sharing the resulting ten images.
American comedian Robert Delaney who has experience of both private healthcare and the NHS described it as “basically the pinnacle of human achievement” and I agree.
But it isn’t an achievement that once reached, is established for ever. We mustn’t take our healthcare system for granted. We all have a role to play in protecting the NHS as a public service and making sure it has the resources it requires to thrive so it’s there to catch and care for anyone who needs it in future.