My sister lives in South Africa. A country with huge variations in standards of living. It is also a country with huge differences in health care. Some of this is due to the hangover from apartheid but they have a radically different system of healthcare in South Africa. High quality publicly provided and funded healthcare is a basic human necessity and it needs to be this way across the world - but sadly this is not the case.
In South Africa there are 43 infant deaths per 1000 live births compared to 5 infant deaths per 1000 live births in the UK. Average life expectancy is South Africa is 50 years whilst in the UK it is 80 years.
I saw my sister last week for the first time in a few years and we decided to go out for a bite to eat. Just before we left she was rifling through her bag saying she had lost something. I asked her what she was looking for and she said she couldn't find her 'medical insurance card'. She told me this was the card she used to receive her healthcare in South Africa and when abroad. She always carried it with her. She had completely forgotten I had free access to high quality healthcare in the UK having lived for 10 years in a country with such shocking inequities in healthcare.
It made me realise once more what a precious institution the NHS is. Available to all, no matter what your income or background is or your status in society. This was the original ethos of the NHS when it was created in 1948 - free for all, run by the state, with no interference from the private sector who have ulterior motives to boost shareholder profits. Does the Health Act make it more likely to see insurance based healthcare with some patients prioritised over others due to having 'better cover' - the excellent Colin Leys thinks so here - as do many other commentators.
We have seen in the past few days the spectre of private patients being prioritised over NHS patients - in the same hospital. This is in a private hospital that is also treating NHS patients but clearly treating them in two very different ways. Remember under the coalition Health and Social Care Act NHS hospitals are now able to use up to 49% of their beds for private patient income - which would see NHS patients waiting longer for treatment in a queue behind private patients.
The Conservatives didn't win the last election. The Liberal Democrats chose to support the Tory conceived Health Bill because senior members of their party (the Orange Book members) support expanding markets in healthcare. There was no mention of a huge NHS upheaval in political manifestos. Yet we saw one of the most radical overhauls of the NHS since its inception in 1948. Indeed the changes are so huge they are 'visible from space' - and that quote is from a man who should know.
We must maintain the pressure on our politicians to protect our NHS and ensure it is available to everyone no matter what their income, background or insurance status is.