Whenever I write a piece about the NHS, as I do fairly frequently, I do so with a sense of trepidation.
That is born out of a sense that whatever the local issue – or even the local slant on the national issue – may be, there is actually a bigger and much more fundamental question that needs to be debated.
That question is this. Is the NHS, as we know it, sustainable any more?
To most of us, the state of the NHS is, in some way, personal and it is to me too. My sister works in it. I have friends that do so as well and, though thankfully rarely, I have had the need to call on its services as a patient from time to time.
But, amid the seemingly never-ending noise and headlines, including our own, about pressure on services and the claims and counter-claims about funding, there is one thing that seems to me to be abundantly clear. We cannot go on like this.
The phrase “political football” has been used so often about the NHS that it must have passed into the realms of cliche by now, but it remains as true now as it ever did.
A few weeks ago, for example, I happened to see Prime Minister’s Questions and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my dismay at the exchange between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.
For those of you who had more interesting things to do than me that particular Wednesday, the basic gist of it was Mr Corbyn said the NHS in England is in a mess and it’s all the Tories’ fault. Mrs May countered by saying the NHS in Wales is in a mess and it’s all Labour’s fault. And so the constant blame game goes on.
I seem to have spent a large and growing proportion of time since I moved to this area six years ago writing about the pressure on public sector finances, be it in local government, the police, the fire service, the NHS and probably others. That pressure is not going away any time soon and it requires us all to face up to the most basic of questions about our public services.
So this is my plea, partly to my own self and my colleagues in the media, partly to our politicians and professionals who will make the decisions and deal with the consequences of them and partly to every single resident who will live with the aftermath. Let us step back and ask ourselves what sort of public services do we want and are we prepared to pay what they will cost?
These issues affect us all. But it is only if we, as a society, regardless of political affiliation, consider and answer those questions in a context of openness and transparency about what is required that we can hope to find a way through the current situation.
Is the NHS sustainable in its current form? I don’t know the answer to that. But I’m sure of one thing – we all deserve greater clarity than what we have right now.