NHS rose to the Covid threat. Now it needs our help – Scotsman comment

Earlier this month, the NHS was ranked as the fourth best healthcare system out of 11 wealthy countries by the Commonwealth Fund think tank.

NHS staff prepare to go to work on an intensive care unit in May (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
NHS staff prepare to go to work on an intensive care unit in May (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Given it was first the last two times the league table was drawn up, in 2014 and 2017, this was disappointing. However, it remains true that the NHS is one of the best healthcare services in the world.

It is also highly cost-effective. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2017, the UK spent £2,989 per person on public and private healthcare, the second-lowest figure among the G7 countries, with the highest spenders being the US (£7,736), Germany (£4,432) and France (£3,737).

But, after its heroics at the height of the Covid pandemic, the NHS is now struggling to cope with the pressure from the backlog of delayed operations and treatments.

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Writing in The Scotsman this week, former chief medical officer for Scotland, Professor Harry Burns, said the NHS had been “overwhelmed by the pandemic” and expressed the fear that the backlog would reduce its ability to provide the “empathetic and understanding consultations” that are vital to good care.

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The Scottish government has also reported a widespread rise in non-Covid-related hospital visits and admissions.

All this comes at time when many people have been struggling to cope with life during the pandemic. New figures have revealed that 1,400 children received hospital treatment after self-harming last year, up from 1,141 in 2019 and 723 in 2011. Lockdown-induced isolation may not be the only factor behind the rise but it would be surprising if it did not play a significant role.

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This may lead to calls for NHS funding to rise. The problem for government is that the pandemic has damaged our economy and sent state borrowing soaring almost to war-time levels.

Given these straitened circumstances, we the public need to make sure we are not needlessly or thoughtlessly adding to the NHS’s burden.

Only making appointments when we are genuinely in need of medical attention and keeping that appointment – or calling to cancel if we no longer need it – would make a difference. As would eating well, exercising and avoiding reckless behaviour that almost inevitably leads to accidents.

The NHS was there when we needed it most. Now it needs our help.

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