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Photo: NHS sign on a building

Should the NHS be seen as a charity?

Over the course of the pandemic we have found ourselves jumping with Joe Wicks, thanking baked potatoes with Matt Lucas, and cheering Captain Tom around his own back garden. All of this to help our beloved NHS. But should we have to do so much fundraising, and should this tax-funded institution really be seen as a charity?

NHS Charities Together is a federation of over 250 charitable organisations that support various aspects of the NHS, including their staff, volunteers, and patients. Never has this charity been more prevalent in the minds of the British public than in the past pandemic and post-pandemic period. 

Now household figures, Captain Tom Moore and Joe Wicks raised £33m and £580,000 respectively for the NHS over the course of the pandemic. Many other celebrities such as McFly and a collection of comedians have also played their part.

However, as someone with close relatives that work for the NHS, it is evident to me that this organisation is far from having their financial needs met by funding. Over the past year and a half the NHS have experienced extreme bed shortages and a lack of appropriate PPE. Pretty much all staff members have, out of necessity, been required to overwork (both mentally and physically).  

So where is all this fundraising going?

Due to the fact that the NHS is a socialised healthcare system funded by the government through taxpayer’s money, charitable donations cannot be spent on direct patient care. These donations are still essential in funding important projects such as staff therapy, emergency volunteers and bereavement support for patients. However, donations, unfortunately, cannot pay for patients’ medical bills. 

Due to the way this system is run, even if unlimited money was fundraised for the NHS, the likelihood is that there would still not be enough hospital beds.  And patients would still be going without the best care for their medical needs.

The NHS is officially governmentally funded through general taxation supplemented by National Insurance Contributions, with a small proportion of funding coming from patient charges. In the years of 2019/20 this income from patient fees, charges for prescriptions, and dental care accounted for 1.1% of the total Department for Health and Social Care budget, and amounted to £1.5 billion. From this figure we can see that the total budget needed for the Department for Health and Social Care is a vast amount: just over £136 billion. 

As a population of just over 65 million people, it is unsurprising that the figure needed to support healthcare is large. Yet, in a highly developed country regarded as having one of the best healthcare systems in the world, it is shocking that anybody with a genuine illness should be denied the care they deserve.

Photo Credit: Left Foot Foward

In order to bring this topic up to date, it is imperative to talk about the Health and Care Bill the government introduced on 21st July 2021. This bill was created in alignment with the NHS’s own proposals for reform, and aims to make the organisation less bureaucratic, more accountable, and more integrated. It aims to work on and learn from issues that the pandemic has highlighted. Along with this bill, it was announced that the NHS staff pay rise, previously put at an outrageously low 1%, would increase to 3%. 

Prior to this announcement, on the 5th July (the NHS’s 73rd birthday), protesters from Keep Our NHS Public lined streets of England, Scotland and Wales to protest the measly 1% pay increase. However, it was not just this that they were protesting. Protesters were also fighting for an end to health service privatisation and to highlight how the working conditions of NHS staff were causing threats to patient safety. 

Health service privatisation has been an issue practically since the beginning of the health service. It concerns the NHS paying private firms instead of publicly owned trusts to provide services. Although some privatisation may be more efficient and at more competitive prices, there is a risk that we will lose the socialist, accessible moral core of the NHS. How far away are we really from slipping into a US-style insurance-based system instead? 

Though the NHS may seem to address the issues these protesters fought against, privatisation is still occurring within it. The pay increase is actually coming from within the NHS’s budget, meaning that poor working conditions are likely to still be a problem. 

Donations to NHS charities are essential for improving aspects of the care provided. Nevertheless, the root of major problems such as poor working conditions, bed shortages, and a lack of funding for care, are found in Parliamentary decisions. In order to see real change within the NHS, and to protect this organisation that is so beloved by (and integral to) the British public, the action created must not be merely charitable, but also political.

Tags: covid-19, government funding, NHS, pandemic, Tories

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