THE NHS is Labour’s greatest achievement.
Established in 1948 by Clement Attlee’s Labour government, it was the first health system in any Western country to provide free healthcare to the entire population.
Borne of a basic belief in the principles of equality and equity, it has since proven to be the most significant policy development of the 20th century and has occupied a special place in the hearts of the British public ever since.
It is a system that enshrines healthcare as a basic and fundamental human right; one that you are entitled to regardless of wealth, class or social status.
The fact that it is still in existence is testament to the professionalism and dedication of those frontline staff who work tirelessly to keep it afloat, despite government policies.
Our NHS is just that – ours. But while it may be ours, it is broken and on its knees.
Broken by 15 years of neglect and indifference; broken by a callous disregard for its significance; and broken by a failure to address long-term, deep-rooted problems.
Each winter we experience another crisis in our NHS services, and each year that crisis deepens.
This year alone we have seen Scotland’s NHS experience the worst A&E waiting times on record, the highest ever number of patients languishing on NHS waiting lists, the worst performance against cancer waiting time targets, the largest increase in levels of delayed discharge, and the most vacancies ever recorded.
Every one of those failures is a result of public policy and political decisions, and every one of them has real life consequences that are felt by you and your families regardless of where you live or how severe your medical ailment.
There is not a single person in this country that is unaffected when our NHS begins to fail. Whether it is a family member who works on the frontline suffering after a decade of stagnating pay or a loved one reliant on the care they provide, we all suffer when these services begin to break down.
And while there is no quick fix or easy actions we can take, the reality is that we cannot afford to allow the NHS to crumble beyond repair. The consequences of inaction do not bear thinking about, but sadly we are fast approaching that point.
We have a workforce that is stretched beyond comprehension, resulting in trade unions representing frontline NHS workers balloting for industrial action for the first time in history while patients experience declining standards.
In short, staff are being asked to do the impossible and patients are being asked to accept the unacceptable with lives being lost as a result.
The crisis in primary care is acute and is made worse by a failure to support and invest in social care services and community-based care. Therein lies the problem.
In the past two years, that failure to invest and integrate our healthcare systems has resulted in almost one million bed days being lost to delayed discharge as patients languish in hospitals unnecessarily.
That is a catastrophic failure of public policy, particularly when combined with the fact that one in every seven Scots is currently on an NHS waiting list unable to access healthcare due to a lack of capacity.
The focus is often on physical health and the problems in those areas, but our mental health services are equally on their knees.
Every week I am contacted by constituents in Glasgow unable to get access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for their children, a grim picture that is replicated across the country with more than 8000 children and young people waiting to start treatment as of September 2022.
That crisis in mental health services is often left to charities and local volunteers to rectify, but they too are feeling the pinch and consequences of austerity. That has never been truer than in the past couple of weeks.
Just last week I learned that local Glasgow charity The Coach House Trust looks set to lose out on funding from Glasgow City Council. It has provided support to adults with mental health difficulties for more than 25 years yet appear to have been overlooked in the latest round of funding applications.
Its plight is one that will be replicated across Glasgow, and the ramifications will be felt by many of the most vulnerable people in our city and further afield, with those unable to access centralised mental health services now unable to rely on charities who have supported them through their darkest times.
As a Labour politician I will always fight for our NHS and for the unrivalled frontline workers who truly are the best of us. It is an institution that is a beacon of hope for millions of Scots and a constant reminder of the benefits a Labour government can bring to every one of us.
You can read my column on the Glasgow Times website here: Paul Sweeney: The NHS is Labour's greatest achievement | Glasgow Times