Our love-hate relationship with the NHS

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 04 July 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:8

When the BMJ invited a number of people to tell us briefly what they most like and dislike about the NHS in Britain it became obvious that on its 50th anniversary the NHS still excites passionate feelings. Some common themes arose—people like the fact that the NHS is free at the point of access, is available to everyone, and provides good quality but cheap care. Some people had more personal stories to tell—of their own life or that of a close family member saved by the dedication of NHS staff. But there were many dislikes too—for example, poor organisation, lack of resources, abuse of staff good will, doctors allowed to cover up mistakes, and the lottery of care. Little things seem to niggle—for example, why can't the NHS provide a matching pair of pyjamas with buttons?

Heather Goodare Chairwoman, research committee of UK Breast Cancer Coalition; cancer counsellor

Likes: It was there, and free, when I needed it: prompt surgery for breast cancer 11 years ago saved my life, and suspicious moles, cysts, and polyps are removed without delay. This is wonderful in comparison with my experience as a child, when my hard up parents had to pay for treatment.

Dislikes: It is so dependent on knowing your way round the system. Why is the NHS so often a lottery? Why can a badger get a CT scan when people with cancer have to wait weeks? Why do inpatients starve because there is no one to help them eat? Why does the UK have about the worst breast cancer mortality in the world?

James Barrett Locum consultant psychiatrist, Maudsley Hospitals NHS Trust, London

Likes: I was once in an NHS clinic where patients included an unemployed labourer, the wife of a peer of the realm, and a prosperous businessman. That's …

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