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Dr Sophie Petit-Zeman
writer on health, science and social care

Six years in to the 21st century, NHS strife reflects, in part, success. Juggling £60 billion a year (the

<1% deficit wouldn’t raise eyebrows in commerce) and the world’s third largest workforce, it has to assess and allocate treatments (limited resources demand thoughtful rationing) amid greater patient knowledge.

By 2024, there’ll be more technology, more knowledge (ensuring equality of access matters, or social exclusion will worsen). More than 50% of us will be over 40, a quarter over 65. We’ll need realism about the extent to which medical progress can keep up, and to keep pulling back to the rule:

however many old or young need care, however much technology supports it, what matters is treating each other well. There’s no one else to blame when we don’t, and anything else hurts us as much as it hurts them.

In the next 18 years society needs to address pomposity - institutional or individual. When those running the NHS wrangle, patients get lost in the melee, feel sidelined and talk of wanting a system with time for them. A ‘too busy’ NHS begs the question of ‘what with?’ if patients bear the brunt. Beset with targets and tick boxes, NHS staff can fall victim to malaises more often associated with the corporate sector; some stretched to breaking point, the huge, impersonal system failing to spot and help them, while this anonymity encourages the less industrious, or ruthlessly ambitious, to behave badly unnoticed.

Too many get sucked in, exacerbate it, or at least let it happen, rather than step aside to claw back tender loving healthcare before losing sight of what it is. Humanity must be at the frontline of what it seems almost quaint to call the caring professions. The economists must sort the money mess, but it’s up to us to treat each other well when the chips are down. We’re in it together, and must behave like it. Compassion is surely the prescription for saving the NHS.

Sophie Petit-Zeman is author of Doctor, What’s Wrong?: Making the NHS Human Again (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)), and How to Be an Even Better Chair: Sensible Advice from the Public and Charity Sectors (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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