Our NHS at 70 is still amazing. Why isn't there an NHS for the world?


05 July 2018

The National Health Service turns 70 today. Despite too many years of austerity cuts, contracting out and PFIs, most of us still feel the NHS is one of the defining achievements of our society.

There’s good reason for that belief. Before the Second World War, healthcare was usually dependent on the market, sometimes on charity. Whether you lived or died, suffered or recovered, depended on your how much money you had.

After the war, our parents and grandparents fought for something better: a system where healthcare was recognised as a right, with treatment dictated not by wealth, but by need. The market had proved incapable of fulfilling our human rights.   

We should always strive to make public services like the NHS better, fairer and more democratic. But the principle that has served us so well – of a service based on need, free to use – must never be compromised. We should celebrated the NHS birthday.

Unfortunately, in a world filled with wealth beyond imagination, it is a scandal that billions of people still don’t have a system as fair as the NHS to look after their basic healthcare. It is a searing indictment of the global economy that life and death on a gigantic scale is today still decided by the laws of the market, by profit and loss – and sometimes charity.

An NHS for the world

Often the campaigns we run can seem abstract. Certainly more abstract than giving to conventional charity. What do they mean to the real lives of people here and now? Well, our campaigns on trade, aid and corporations would, get us a step closer to public healthcare for everyone on the planet.  

Let’s start with aid. Aid is not a form of charity, but of redistribution – just like the taxes that fund our NHS. We can and should use this to help others build their own version of a national, public and democratic healthcare system. Labour’s new development policy promises to do just that, and to stop using aid to support private healthcare.   

Our trade campaign is trying to stop the use of trade deals to liberalise health services, and bully governments into giving into the will of corporate giants. We’re working across political parties to force trade policy to be open and democratic and exclude public services like the NHS. Green MP, Caroline Lucas’ amendment to the Trade Bill would be a vital step forwards.       

Finally, our corporate campaign looks at the way that the pharmaceutical industry is draining funds from the NHS and preventing those in southern countries from accessing vital medicines. We’re part of an international push to transform the medical research and development, by moving it out of the market.

There is no reason why the world cannot have access to good healthcare, publicly provided. But conventional charity will not provide that. That will only come about through campaigning and activism.

The same thing which brought the NHS to our parents and grandparents, can today help build an NHS for the world. 


Photo: Global Justice Now activists on the NHS 70 march on Saturday 30 June.

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