Today is the 69th Birthday of the NHS.
It is important we understand that the NHS is more than a collection of services. It’s an expression of British values. Free healthcare at the point of delivery irrespective of background is one of the features of this country that mark us out from the rest of the world. We must protect our NHS.
Whether we are talking about government that lacks a spiritual commitment to the NHS, the effective pay reductions faced by NHS staff or the shrinking finances available for commissioners and service providers, it is without question that our NHS is being weakened.
Undermining it’s ability to deliver will impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our country. This is even more so because we know that poor health disproportionately afflicts the poorest.
In Bristol we are driving forward on a new approach to health leadership. A few weeks ago I met with Simon Stevens (CEO of the NHS) and talked with him about what we are doing.
I shared my concern that while the NHS is absolutely essential, the national conversation has become distorted. Only 10% of population health outcomes are down to health services. 30% are down to personal behaviours and 40% to social policy. I talked with him about the need for the NHS to start making bigger demands of social policy: adequate housing, transport connectivity, descent jobs. These are the biggest determinants of health and wellbeing. I explained to him that I am challenging Bristol’s Health and Wellbeing Board to reform so that it can begin to take this challenge on. My offer to Simon was to deliver a city that was healthier and therefore making less demand of the NHS. My ask was he back up getting the finances we need to invest in our populations lives and health.
It is worth reflecting on this. My concern about the current governments disinvestment approach to national leadership is that its creating the conditions in which the population will be more unwell. In that sense, austerity is a false economy. Rather than investing to reap flourishing, resilient communities that need fewer public services, we are storing up weakened individuals and communities who will need more.