The NHS has been a beloved institution since its foundation shortly after WW2. The ability to provide universal healthcare for all has, for the most part, been an unequivocal success and has been the cause of great envy for the USA (amongst others). However, many of the NHS staff feel neglected and undervalued which has culminated in numerous strikes. Unsurprisingly, universal healthcare is not unique to the United Kingdom and I believe the answers to our healthcare issues at home can be found by looking beyond our shores.
The fight against Covid-19 seems like a losing battle. Those of us who are still paying attention to the news are bombarded with a dim picture of lockdowns, circuit breakers and more restrictions. The more optimistic of us may look to the countries did a better job at combatting the pandemic, like New Zealand and Taiwan. Whilst these countries deserve praise for the work they have done in containing and destroying the virus, it is quite obvious that these countries, isolated and oceanic, have a distinct geographical advantage in the war on Covid-19. But what about Israel?
Israel has a whopping 40% of its population of 9 million vaccinated , dwarfing that of rival countries like the UAE at 26% and Northern Ireland at 7%. So why Israel been so progressive implementing its vaccination roll-out?
Israel has universal healthcare for Israeli citizens. It has four separate government funded healthcare organisations. These 4 rival 'NHSs' are in constant competition, fighting for members, loyalty and, above all, government funding. This incentivises each organisation to advertise and fight for their customers. The Israeli population is reaping the rewards of this system through more vaccinations, and therefore more immunity.
The NHS has no direct competition and this lack of competition breeds inefficiency. This has only been emphasised in light of the pandemic which the government and the NHS were ill-equipped to deal with. The lack of equipment required to meet the needs of an outbreak coupled with the government’s vague guidelines undoubtedly cost a number of lives. But the warning signs where there long before this virus arrived on our shores. Before the pandemic, hospital visits were already dismal affair, with over-crowded waiting rooms and understaffed emergency rooms. If we restructured the healthcare system we could create a competitive government-funded market which still funds a universal healthcare system, like Israel has done. This newly competitive market would force the competing healthcare organisations to fight for not only customers but also for staff. As things currently stand the NHS has the luxury to set wages at whatever amount they feel suitable and this arrangement clearly isn’t suitable for their staff. Healthcare workers, particularly nurses, have made their voices heard, strikes have been occurring much more frequently in recent years and rightly so. They want to be paid a fair wage which truly reflects the importance of their work and their value to the community.
This pandemic has given the UK a strong sense of pride toward the NHS and rightfully so. The frontline workers should be celebrated for their efforts and I hope that is something we won’t forget once the world shifts back towards normality. But all the clapping and congratulations in the world won’t pay their student loans and put food on their tables. The stagnant wages of nurses and healthcare professionals is driven solely by the government’s monopolisation of the healthcare industry. Why should they have to pay more money to their staff that can’t go anywhere else?
The NHS is a source of great pride for people in the UK, but it may be time to innovate and rethink, for what good is pride when the most valuable members of our society remained undermined, undervalued, and worst of all, underpaid.
Cathal Nugent is an Actuarial Science student at Queen's University Belfast