This is not a post-budget political rant (although I have indulged plenty in those this week). This is not some statement of support for one political ideology or another. It is simply an expression of gratitude that we live in a country where health services and treatments are given freely at the point of need.
I know it’s not perfect, I get that. Google “Herceptin” and there is a wealth of evidence of impassioned, emotional debate about the balance of cost over benefits, and I know there is much more of that goes on behind the scenes that never reaches the front pages or social media frenzies. I also know that there are a handful of companies who are sitting pretty on the profits of this social welfare safety net, and that the divide is widening between the health of different social class groups, for a number of complex reasons.
But today, right now, I cannot begin to imagine how different life for someone with MS could be without that unconditional support, where needs are assessed without (the patient) ever needing to consider the balance sheets. The cost implications of each treatment, and its relative merits in weighing up those costs, are all analysed by distant bureaucratic boards. Yes, this of course leads to cold, hard calculations and sometimes those decisions
appear are brutal. But for me, this week, in my consultant’s office, not having to take into consideration any of these costs to me personally was something I did not even pause to give thanks for at the time. It is only when I came home and followed up my appointment with some further research that I discovered that the bill for my new, imminent treatment comes to about £18000 per annum. Further enquiries revealed that in the USA this cost is close to $55000 (around £36000), and would need to be considered in the light of health insurance “deductibles” (for those who have insurance of some sort) which could easily render this unaffordable.
The privilege of free healthcare and treatment is not something I often consider. I was very quick to enter into a tirade about the shortcomings and failings of the system in March when I had my relapse, not for one moment pausing to consider the financial minutiae having already been taken care of. I am fortunate that, if I was required to contribute to the cost of my treatment, I would perhaps be able to do so, at least in part. And yes, I know it is not “free” in the truest sense; we pay our taxes, so we already foot the bill way before the bill arrives. But for someone with a serious or long-term condition (and, over the course of a lifetime, that could work out to be a high proportion of us), the relief of not needing to whip out a calculator when considering the options is something that I wanted to take a moment to give thanks for.
The hour in my consultant’s office; the baseline blood test; the (already three) MRI scans; the hospital food (love it or hate it, it was free!); the delivery (direct to my home) in the next few weeks of a batch of potentially life-changing treatment; the follow-up appointments and tests…. all given freely at the point of need. That is a beautiful thing, and long may it continue.