Can we still afford the NHS?

Every healthcare system worldwide, including the NHS, will have to deal with rising costs over the coming years due to a rise in chronic disease and in the proportion of older people in the population. These escalating costs always prompt the question – can we afford the NHS? Most often from people who would prefer an alternative model of health care system. 

Rising healthcare costs in Britain largely reflect the rising health needs of our population, and these have to be met somehow: if not met by the NHS then more of these costs must be borne by the individual.

The apparent affordability of the NHS has varied with the economic circumstances and political preferences of governments; but we should remember that the NHS itself was born in 1948 in a war-ravaged, debt-ridden economy still in the midst of rationing of food and other basics.

A question as old as the NHS itself

From almost the moment the NHS was born, people have been arguing over whether the country can afford it. As a quick history of successive government attitudes to funding over the last 75 years shows.

Bevan had noted that the financial plight and physical condition of an ageing stock of hospitals meant that even if no NHS had been established they would have needed large and continuing government subsidies to keep them open. By nationalising them, the government took responsibility for the development of a national service, and gained the possibility of shaping that service around the needs in each area.

Full article in The Lowdown, 5 July 2023