FIRST, let me plead a special interest: I have a daughter in London who works in the NHS.  Okay? So, yes, I am biased in favour of governments who give as much money as possible to keeping their citizens alive and  healthy. The thing is, if you do a bit of burrowing, you start coming up with some depressing statistics.

Such as? Well, in 2024-25, NHS England expects to receive £164.9 billion. Which is a lot of money, for sure. Hospitals, ambulances, beds, medical equipment,  staffing – all of those take a lot of funding. But the fact that the British government may point to an increased budget for health may be less of a big deal than it at first appears. That increase in funding will be matched or even surpassed by the increased cost of living. So even to remain in its present state, the NHS will somehow have to run harder.

How do NHS staff feel about this? “Underpaid and overworked." Cleaners, janitors, nurses, doctors – they really are at the end of their tether. Ask any junior doctor in England and they’ll tell you they’ve had a real pay cut of some 30 per cent since 2012.  Yes, Rishi Sunak has put huge amounts of money into the NHS system. But funding for the NHS in the coming year will be pretty well what it is this year – flat.

When the NHS was started in 1948, a leaflet was issued by the British government, explaining what it was all about: “It will provide you with all medical, dental and nursing care. Everyone – rich or poor, man, woman or child – can use it or any part of it. There are no charges, except for a few special items. There are no insurance qualifications. But it is not a ‘charity’. You are all paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in time of illness.” 

Unfortunately, since 1948  there has been a lot of changes in the NHS. Today if you want to see a consultant, the news is not good; most of us will have to wait for over a year.  Better hope that your condition hasn’t gone rampant before that. 

You’ve moved into a new area and want to get a dentist’s appointment? Tough luck again – figures show 90 per cent of practices are not accepting new adult patients and 88 per cent were not accepting child patients.

As for free eye tests and glasses – that’ll very much depend on your income. See all that stuff in 1948 about “rich or poor”?  Undiluted  eyewash, if you’ll pardon the pun. 

But don’t be downcast. Unlike south of the border, you can still get a free visit to your doctor. Mind, you’d better not be in a rush. If it’s a ‘routine’ visit, you’re looking at a wait of weeks.  So best stay healthy, okay?

Meantime, let’s consider something completely different: Defence. The UK defence budget.

First the good news. The UK defence department at present gets a measly £51.7 billion.  The bad news? By 2030, that’s expected to rise to  £87 billion. 

It’s odd, really. They say the first responsibility of any government is to keep its citizens safe. You could argue that the other guy won’t try to harm you if you’ve spent lots and lots of money on tanks and guns and bombs. You’ll have scared the crap out of him and he won’t try any funny stuff with you. But at the same time, if you’re on a waiting list to see an overworked doctor, or to have surgery performed by a frazzled surgeon, it’ll be scant consolation to know that the British Armed Forces have lots of weapons  with which to kill as-yet-unnamed enemies. 

By the way, given that Britain in recent decades has gone overseas to kill people –Ireland, Afghanistan, Libya – shouldn’t they change the Defence department name to, well, to the Department of War? Always best to come clean about these things. But then, the British government have always had a problem with speaking the truth.