Last weekend, as the NHS prepared to celebrate its 75th birthday, a crowd of several thousand people gathered in a South London park to pay tribute to another venerable institution, one who is actually a year older than the NHS and has demonstrated similar remarkable longevity despite a number of challenges.
I refer of course to the veteran rock star Iggy Pop, who bounded on stage shirtless in Crystal Palace Park and proceeded to rip through a set of proto-punk classics with an abandon which defied age, decorum and standard medical advice for a man of his years.
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There is much for the NHS to emulate about Mr Pop. His vitality, enthusiasm for what he does, and a popularity which defies demographic boxes. Unfortunately it doesn’t have his luxury of being able to just keep banging the old stuff. Like any health system it constantly needs a raft of new material – technology, infrastucture and people.
Reviving the NHS has been as much a talking point this week as celebrating it. It’s too big a subject to do justice to in this space, but it strikes me that we fixate too much on the model. The right portraying it as the last holdout of the big state, ineffectual and gorged on tax receipts; the left as a battered symbol of state beneficence, being cherrypicked for profit.
In reality the main issues faced by the NHS are universal to almost all health systems: workforce shortages and costs rising at a rate which outstrip ‘real terms increases’ in funding. These are not insurmountable, but solving them will demand energy, creativity and cultural change from public and policymakers alike. Tough but essential –the alternative is running out of steam way before Iggy does.