In collaborating with the BBC for this year’s 70th anniversary of the NHS we wanted to find out how people felt about the future of the NHS, as well as thinking about its past, and so another question that we felt it was important to put forward to the interviewees was; ‘Where will the NHS be in 70 years?’
Taken at face value such a question would appear to be straightforward enough, and yet when you really think about it, this is perhaps a little trickier to answer than it might appear. My own head immediately ran to images of health dystopias, of technology run amuck or Hunger Games-style competitions for healthcare, or else a utopian land of endless funding and truly equal treatment, perhaps even free prescriptions….
What becomes clear in the interviews, however, is that how a person answers this question is very much tied to their deeper feelings about the NHS. For nearly every single one of the fourteen interviews we have released so far you can hear each person speak about fear and, overwhelmingly, hope. Such feelings are natural enough when thinking about the future, but what comes across in these interviews is that it is in fact hope that is the overriding vision of the NHS in 70 years; hope that it will still be here, and hope that it will remain true to its core principles, as a universal service that speaks to the very core of our civilisation.
As this last point highlights, the flipside to that emotional coin is fear; fear that we will lose it, that it will become ‘a series of private companies’, or too much like an American model of healthcare (Dr Elphis Christopher describes this as ‘I do not want us going down the American way’, and suggests that ‘prevention is better than cure’ – perhaps that applies both in terms of our own health and that of the NHS itself). What is striking, however, is that those very feelings of hope and fear are a big part of our previous question – ‘what would you do for the NHS?’ People talk about fighting to keep the NHS, the need to preserve it, and that it may well need to evolve and adapt. One interviewee even spoke proudly of ‘doing everything possible to keep it going’.
And this after all is perhaps something that is key to understanding the relationship between the British public and the NHS; it is for many a living, breathing public institution, part of the fabric of our ourselves and our identity, and that means for making sure that we fight to keep it alive and keep it going. There is a sense for many people that our apathy and neglect could result in a future in which the NHS is lost. Perhaps it is in this way that the NHS does reflect the best in society – not just in the admirable moral principles that underlie its foundations, but in how it can often bring out the best and most civilised in our society, as people stand together to fight for its future.
This then, is far from the nightmarish dystopia that first sprang to my mind, but the utopian future of the NHS is in fact there, in these interviews. People ultimately put their hope ‘In Place of Fear’, as Nye Bevan once called for. Perhaps the last word then should be had by Jackie Serrano who ultimately believes in a better future for the NHS: ‘we can do more, we can do wonders’.