WITH the NHS celebrating its platinum jubilee, there has quite rightly been a focusing of political attention on the institution. TCW spoke to the Prime Minister to gauge his thoughts on what the future holds for this most beloved of organisations. With renovation work being undertaken on the ground floor, we meet in his private apartment above 10 Downing Street.
I start by asking him: What does the NHS mean to him personally and politically?
‘Like every single person in the UK and many from abroad I have interacted with the NHS at all levels. Whether a simple GP consultation or when I attended A&E with a bad cut sustained constructing a small thatched gazebo, it has always been there. My admiration for its dedicated workforce is quite literally boundless. I can think of no other establishment that generates affection bordering on obsession.
‘Politically, it has always been a “hot potato” – everyone has an opinion as to what can be done better – but basically, I am content that it delivers an optimum service and more importantly delivers value for money for the taxpayer, and that is crucial. My only surprise is that no other country has copied this extraordinarily successful concept.’
When he thinks of the NHS, what comes to mind?
‘Many things, but if I can rewind just a little. When I worked in the United States I often yearned to get away from the hustle and bustle of city living. One treat was taking the ferry to Staten Island. I would take my favourite coffee with me, a venti iced skinny hazelnut macchiato, sugar-free syrup, extra shot, light ice, no whip, and sit cross-legged in front of the Statue of Liberty. I would read Emma Lazarus’s marvellous sonnet The New Colossus and marvel at its humble yet profound words.’
The Prime Minister gazes absently into the distance and recites from memory.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
‘I am reminded of this inspiring and emotional text whenever the NHS is mentioned. The huddled masses, the tired and poor, the wretched refuse, these are the people who are drawn to and protected by the NHS. Tell me this, do you know of any other body that has almost eight million people waiting to use it? It’s quite simply staggering, eight million customers all happy to patiently wait to enjoy what the NHS can offer; pride is an inadequate word.’
What about the problems that we read about in the media: is the NHS safe in Conservative hands?
‘Why do we as a nation love to knock things that we are good at? It’s a national pastime, be it football, cricket, banks, transport, energy suppliers, water companies, airports, we just cannot stop ourselves taking pot shots at things that warrant admiration and support. It makes my blood boil when I read and hear unfounded criticism. Yes, there are things in the NHS that could be done better, of course there are, but that applies to everything in life. Yes, it’s a pity that junior doctors are on strike, yes, it’s a pity consultants are on strike, yes, it’s a pity we have the fewest scanners in Europe, yes, it’s a pity we have one of the lowest survival rates for cancer in Europe, but people rightly recognise that these things are basically “froth” in the great scheme of things.
‘If I can refer you back to that number, almost eight million people simply don’t recognise the grotesque portrayal that is painted in the media. I wish we could pull together as a society and harness that overwhelming love we experienced during Covid, when pot and pan banging was a weekly ritual.
‘But to answer your question, is the NHS safe in our hands, the answer is a resounding Yes.’
I finish our talk by asking him for his vision of the NHS in another 75 years.
‘Well, quite clearly technology will play a tremendous part in the system. We already have had huge success with IT projects across the health spectrum and this will accelerate as time moves on. Artificial intelligence is in its infancy currently, but I can confidently predict that developments will be swift and life changing in both primary and secondary care.
‘Imagine not seeing your local GP, but interacting instead with a robot. This could cut time for diagnoses and free more time for GPs working from home already. Surgical procedures could be carried out remotely – maybe in the comfort of your own home. Quite literally, the possibilities are endless and exciting.’
The Prime Minister stands and extends his hand, smiling that sincere and familiar beam known to voters up and down the land. ‘Mind you don’t trip,’ he shouts after me as I make my way down the narrow staircase.