Does it matter who runs the NHS?

I had this letter published in The Guardian on Wednesday 5th May 2010

Dear  Letters Editor

I graduated as a doctor in 1982 and experienced 15 years working in an NHS  controlled by the Tories.  My experience during this time was of a service starved of resources. Unless people had access to private health insurance, basic healthcare treatment was a lottery for many people.

One of my abiding memories was in 1997 when I referred a patient, aged 82, for a cataract operation. I received a letter from the consultant saying that the waiting list was 18 months and that if my patient was still alive after then, he would consider doing the operation if I wrote again.

There is no comparison between the NHS as then and now.  As a GP, my patients now have access to diagnostic tests like MRI scans, echocardiograms and ultrasounds where the average waiting time in Manchester is about two weeks. Patients suspected of having a cancer are seen by a specialist within two weeks.  Endoscopies and some other specialist diagnostic investigations are usually carried out in less than 10 days from my referral.

There is no longer a fear of having to endure months in pain because of long waiting lists or the anxiety of waiting for tests to diagnosis conditions, such as heart disease or cancer. Patients were denied treatment simply because they were too old.  This, of course, was never made explicit, but it was the way services were rationed.

Everything is not perfect, but it is so much better than it was.  All the parties say that they want to protect the NHS and not cut services. The fact remains that only the Labour Party delivered what it promised.

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