Birthday honours

The NHS has been a success in so many ways. How should we honour it on its birthday?

One way to answer this, is to look at how we honour people.

Kenny Dalglish has finally been awarded a knighthood for his remarkable footballing career, his work for cancer charities and his support for the families harmed in the Hillsborough disaster.

Can we honour the NHS for the same reasons: for excellence, for fighting illness and for support in the face of injustice?

The triumphs of the NHS have touched all our lives. It has fought illness, delivering care and researching ways to improve it.

But is this enough to deserve the highest honours? Just as many footballers show great skill and give to charity, many health services deliver good care and help fight illness.

For me, justice is the issue that sets Dalglish apart. Many felt for the Hillsborough families. But he actually stood with them when the press was unjustly blaming their dead, and the authorities were unjustly covering up.

Justice should likewise set the NHS apart.

Other health systems can discriminate based on the patient’s ability to pay. They may deliver only what’s necessary to save life and limb; after that, only what people can afford. They can bankrupt people at the time of their greatest need, allowing illness to worsen injustice.

In the UK, we hold dear that the NHS opposes this approach; that care is provided free at the point of delivery. The founders of the NHS understood illness is a risk we all face, the costs for which we all should share.

But it’s here where the honour of the NHS is at risk.

First, like Dalglish, the NHS needs to stand with those in trouble; to support the sick and elderly even if the press is blaming them for their ills, or for costing too much.

Second, the NHS needs to stand with its own victims of injustice. When people suffer avoidable harm or suffer for reporting it, the NHS needs to own up and learn. At present, it dishonours them by too often standing with those who cover up.

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