The world has been suffering from a pandemic since early this year. Covid-19 spread from China to other countries and hit the entire world at the beginning of 2020. It spread very quickly from East to West and reached the European countries in its very early stages. A high number of infections and a record number of deaths in some European countries with reputable healthcare systems have raised questions about the governments behind these social care structures.
In Europe, Britain has its famous National Health Service known as the NHS. The NHS refers to the medical and healthcare services which are funded by the UK government and used by all those resident in the country. The coronavirus pandemic, however, exposed weaknesses in the NHS. When treating the outbreak was faced with difficulties, the European Commission underscored that the pandemic showed sufficient money is not spent on NHS staff, its infrastructure, and equipment to tackle the problem. The shortfalls forced the UK to set up temporary field hospitals for Covid-19 patients and the country recorded the second highest Covid-19 deaths in Europe.
The NHS was set up over seven decades ago, in 1948, and is referred to as the pride of Britain by a good number of people. UK residents can use the NHS for a variety of services without paying the full cost of treatment. These services include accident and emergency treatment in hospitals, visiting general practitioners, family planning, therapy for infectious diseases and psychotherapy.
The fundamental principle for establishing the NHS was to offer health services to all people, whether rich or poor, without having to worry about bills when sick. Since the duty of health care was passed on from the UK Government to the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, and Northern Ireland Assembly, there are now four NHS systems in the UK: NHS England, NHS Wales, NHS Scotland, and the Health and Social Care Services as it is called in Northern Ireland.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the world, including the UK, managing the outbreak and testing and tracing was slow, resulting in tragic deaths in the early stages. The UK health service failed in many respects to control the pandemic on the first days, to save lives, alert the population, set proper policies for the early stages of epidemic control, take measures to protect vulnerable people in care homes, provide widespread treatments, and hospitalise many of the severely infected people.
The failures do not only apply to the pandemic, but also demonstrate structural flaws rooted within the UK healthcare system. The health service has not acted very well in dealing with Covid-19; it also turned away other patients with non-communicable diseases due to Covid-19. Cancer patients experienced long waiting times for treatment. Furthermore, cancer patients are not covered by the NHS in all parts of the country. Patients with suspected cancer either did not receive a diagnosis or received it with delays. Patients who needed to continue their cancer treatment also faced life-threatening delays. Other patients were also experiencing admission delays, but in the case of cancer the time limits are of great importance to save lives.
On the other hand, rather than helping the NHS and its staff to deal with the pandemic in a more effective way, Britain’s leaders have repeatedly asked people to “Protect the NHS”. They continuously asked people to stay at home in order to save the NHS and did not implement strategies to empower the NHS for the following waves of the outbreak.
Based on a report published by the Health Foundation, the UK government performed very slowly and did not make sufficient support available to the NHS. Years of improper action in this field resulted in the country entering the pandemic with an understaffed and underfunded health service. The Labour Party criticised the Conservative government for its inability to deal with Covid-19. The government has been criticised for not having plans set in place for a rapid response to the pandemic. Critics of the UK government policies in healthcare emphasise that the pandemic displayed the weaknesses of the state-sponsored health service; so now, more than ever before, the government must agree to review the quality of health and social care services for more efficiency. Experts believe that the NHS must become a proper public health service with proper management to work for the public interest.
Although the pandemic shed light on the NHS flaws, its shortcomings are not a recent problem. Over the last decade, there have been several reports of very long waiting times for NHS services. The NHS staff goes on strike every year in order to protest government policies placing more pressure on them and making it impossible to provide suitable services to all patients across the country.
Covid-19 was just another exposure of the NHS’s long-standing inabilities revealed in recent months. On the other hand, a sad reality is that the coronavirus impacted certain communities more than others in the UK, showing inequalities in the healthcare system. People in socially and economically underprivileged areas and ethnic minorities are among those most affected by the pandemic. The UK government should have taken better steps to compensate for inequalities in healthcare. This is a long-standing challenge and must be dealt with efficiently to provide more resources distributed equally across the country to help the National Health Service provide better care in the future.