I have no hesitation in saying that a Public Health Service is a necessity.
I have lived most of my life secure in the presence of the safety-net provided by the National Health Service. As with other necessities, such as clean running water, it is easy to take our health service for granted.
My awareness of the health service as a necessity springs partly from observing the fear and dread with which my parents approached any health problem. They grew up and lived their early adult lives in a society without a public health service. For them every health issue was associated with unaffordable costs. Any health crisis carried the underlying threat that it would become a financial crisis. They grew up learning that health-care simply was not for people of their means. They neglected their own health and hoped the worst would never happen while paralysed by the fear that it might.
This panorama was shot outside Altnagelvin Area Hospital
, Northern Ireland. It is a landmark in the geography of the city where I live.
was an important part of my 1960s childhood. I visited its Accident and Emergency Department with a relentless regularity.
It was the venue for numerous stitched cuts, X-Rays and plaster-casts for damaged bones, a week as an in-patient (in the summer I was 11) being observed for concussion, after an incident involving a fast moving bicycle and an intransigent brick wall, more than my fair share of being patched up after teenage fights and as the years went on countless sports-related injuries.
However Altnagelvin Hospital also has a place in the history of the UK National Health Service. When it opened in February 1960, it was the first completely new, general hospital to have been built after the founding of the NHS.
At that time it was billed as "Europe's most spectacular hospital."
and was described by a national newspaper as "stretching... proudly above the Ulster countryside like a luxury Mediterranean hotel, sporting bedside phones, TV, balconies with a view... and meals... by electric train."
(From an article on the history of the NHS in the Health Service Journal
In the last ten years it has been refurbished. It has 450 beds and provides acute-care services for (depending on the service in question) between 250k and 500k people within its catchment area. It serves patients both in Northern Ireland and in the North Western counties of the Republic of Ireland.
Also over the last ten years I have reached that stage in middle-age where family and friends have needed the services of the hospital and I have once more been a regular visitor.