I’ve just experienced an unexpected and intensive 10 days of exposure to some of the inner workings of our remarkable National Health System.

My poor Dad was rushed in, via ambulance, to A&E at the Royal Surrey Hospital late one night and moved through the system thereafter, from A&E to the EAU (Emergency Assessment Unit) and then to the Frensham surgical ward.

We visited every day, and became immersed in the medical processes and jargon, as well as the infrastructure surrounding what is akin to a small city.

We got used to the nuances of the parking options, the Costa coffee queues, M&S snacks and the vagaries of the creaking lifts. We made sure we smothered our secular hands in the anti-bug gel dispensers. We filled out endless menu choices for a disinterested patient. We harassed the nursing staff for updates. We listened to medical advice on Dad’s changing diagnosis. We hoped. We prayed.

With my loving son’s hat on, words can’t adequately describe my gratitude for the care and attention given by everyone at the Royal Surrey. From the paramedics in the ambulance, to the nurses and doctors in A&E and the EAU, to everyone on the ward – the tea-trolley wheeler, the pharmacists, the endlessly patient nursing staff, the young doctors, the consultants, the surgeons, the nutritionists – we thank you all.

But with my ex bean-counter’s hat on, it’s hard to see how a system this professional, caring and so committed to the perfect solution for everyone – free at the point of service – can be sustainable.

Net migration is now running well in excess of 300k every year. The average life expectancy was around 60-65 in the 1940s and 1950s, when the Beveridge Report formed the basis for the current NHS. Today’s average lifespan is closer to 80, and is expected to be close to 90 by 2030.

I don’t know what the solution is, other than forcing those who can afford it to pay for some medical treatment, in order to ensure that it continues to be free for those less well off.

(cartoon courtesy of Gary Barker)

But I do suspect that the current system – and more importantly, its staff – will inevitably buckle with fatigue and stress, if we expect them to continue to provide this level of care and commitment for an ever-increasing and ever-ageing population.

(cartoon by Graham)

In the meantime Dad is back home, with more drugs to get through every day than Amy Winehouse managed in a year, and a series of follow-up appointments to look forward to.

But without the NHS, he would probably have left us many years ago.

Welcome home, Dad. And thank you to Mr Beveridge and the NHS.

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