I am really pleased to be talking in this debate about the National Health Service. I started life in St Mary’s Hospital. My mother, a lovely Irish lady, said that I was the most difficult birth because instead of it taking 10 Woodbines to birth me, it took 20. I should not really be here: I should be dead, because I come from poverty. I am in the House of Lords because of poverty, to try to dismantle poverty and to prevent poverty happening.
I do not want to sound like Mark Antony at Caesar’s funeral, but talking about the National Health Service raises a number of questions for me. One is: are we talking about the National Health Service or the “I will get you back to health” service? My problem is that when I look around, I look at the big, ugly sun that sets and rises over all of us, which is poverty. According to a friend of mine who worked at St Thomas’ Hospital, 60% to 70% of the people the NHS has to deal with come from poverty. Because they come from poverty, they present their poverty in many ways and one of the big ways is in their health.
I will quote two human beings. One, John Newton, is the director of Public Health England, who makes the point that 40% of all illnesses that present in hospitals and the National Health Service are preventable and 23% of deaths need never have happened.
I have a quotation from 1944, from the MP for Rochdale, Dr Hyacinth Morgan, who said:
“The whole question of social medicine, with the questions of good milk supply, prevention of disease, good food and nutrition, good housing, good recreational facilities, prevention of mental disability in its early stages—all this has been left out of the White Paper”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/3/1944; col. 494.]
Looking at the National Health Service over the past 70 years, I would say that it is an absolutely wonderful invention that has saved many members of my family. I have yet to use it, but, when it does come along, I am sure you will give me a brilliant send-off.
The point is that, unless we find a way, instead of spending 5% of the national health budget on prevention, to move it mainstream, we will always be worshipping at the altar of the accomplished fact. We will always be dealing with health rather than the terrible reality that exists behind it, which is the fact that we live in a poverty culture; we have poverty capitalism, where the poorest among us have to resort to the kind of food that can lead only to bad health. Until we get rid of poverty capitalism, we are not really going anywhere, and we will be talking about more and more needs for the National Health Service. The National Health Service will become even bigger unless we tackle the elephant in the room, which is poverty.