I was scrolling through Twitter yesterday and came across a thread where people were ‘discussing’ the NHS and whether certain taxes should be increased to help with the current crisis. I say discussing in inverted commas because I was horrified by the attitude of some people. There were the typical ignorant, racist trolls who were commenting on the fact that ‘foreigners use it for free’ and being derogatory, but there were some comments about how only people who contribute to it should be allowed to use it for free, because it’s ‘all the people on benefits who don’t contribute and get to use it for free costing the rest of us money and being a burden’ (paraphrase) and ‘the people on the dole who just spend their money on fags and booze who waste the NHS’- again a paraphrase, but an opinion that came up a lot.
Wow. I thought about getting involved, but decided against it because I wouldn’t be able to argue my point eloquently in the limited number of characters, it would stress me out and I doubted I’d actually be able to change people’s opinions on social media. But wow.
I currently don’t pay into the NHS. But I use it a lot, and I use it more than the average person in the UK. Does that mean I shouldn’t be allowed to use it for free? I used to work and I used to pay a reasonable amount of taxes, but I can no longer work because my poor health prevents me from being able to. I had a rant at my husband about this point and he said ‘that’s different though’. How is it different? If you want to apply this principle to the NHS, unless you go through every single person’s individual circumstances to decide it’s different, wasting more time and money, how would you possibly be able to decide who should have free healthcare because they’ve contributed enough to the NHS and who shouldn’t?
You can’t. Unless we become like other countries and have insurance. That’s the great thing about the NHS, it treats anyone and everyone regardless of circumstance, ability to pay or illness. We’re lucky to never be in a situation (at least for now) where we have to decide if we can afford potentially life-saving treatment because we have the NHS.
I can still hear some people saying ‘but there are people who don’t pay into it who abuse it’. Yes, but there are also a lot of people who do pay into it, have the attitude that they’ve ‘paid their taxes so are entitled’ and rock up to A&E with a cold demanding to be seen. And where do you draw the line? If it’s about people contributing to it and being responsible for their health, what’s the criteria? What about babies or children? Children aren’t directly paying into the NHS but they’re still allowed free healthcare even though their parents don’t pay double taxes to cover them. Or pregnant women who require treatment for their baby before their baby’s born- their baby doesn’t exist yet as a person outside of their womb technically. Who should be paying for that? I doubt anyone would challenge a child or pregnant woman’s right to free healthcare because it’s obvious that they should be allowed to access it for free. Or people who smoke lots and then get lung cancer- should they get free treatment even though they knew that smoking was bad for them? How about all the drunk people before Christmas who end up in A&E because they couldn’t work out their own alcohol limits?
If we were all statistics or algorithms, then you could discriminate between who deserves what in a ‘fair’ way. But it wouldn’t be fair, because we’re humans. And what’s fair based on statistics is not necessarily fair in terms of what the right thing to do is. Humans get sick and make silly mistakes like getting drunk to the point of needing hospital. They shouldn’t be penalised because they’re human and act like humans. That’s why the NHS is free for people to access. Healthcare Professionals are supposed to treat and help people, not be given ultimate power of God and decide who lives and dies based on financial reasons. And what’s the point in a healthcare system where the only people who could use it for free are potentially the healthiest people because they’re working and making contributions to it? From a business point of view, without the sick people using it, the system would go bust. The people who need it the most are children, the chronically ill and the elderly, all of whom aren’t necessarily paying taxes.
The NHS is free for us to use as patients but it obviously costs money. I can understand where people are coming from when they say it needs to be respected and used appropriately so as not to waste money, but that goes for everyone- just because you pay into it doesn’t mean you have the right to misuse it. And it really upset me to be called a ‘burden’ when I do everything possible to be a good patient and keep healthy. Having lived in a country where you have to pay for your healthcare, I know what it’s like to be thinking ‘can I afford this ambulance since ambulances aren’t covered in my health plan’. It’s not fun, so I’m obviously really grateful for the NHS!