Grey Foxes, by john Penny, February 13, 2015

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Grey Foxes is for our older readers to write on issues of topical interest or simply to reminisce. Send contributions to

I now know that when the war ended, a lot of our food went to Germany. In winter, people were dying in the streets from cold and hunger. Looking back, I am proud of the way our country helped those needy souls, whose leader had tried to crush us.

I remember also how many people looked ill. One day when I went shopping with my mother and father, I saw a window cleaner whose cheek stuck out about six inches from his face. To this day I do not know what was wrong with him, but it was clear he was not getting proper treatment for his illness. He probably had no money to pay for a doctor.

It was about this time that the National Health Service came into being. Unless you go to a country that has no health service like ours, it’s difficult to realise how lucky we are. When, in 1964, I flew to visit my relations in Canada, I met my cousin Debbie, who was born with serious heart problem.

Luckily, her mother and father had enough money to pay for an operation. Other parents with very ill children went begging to pay doctors’ bills. They rattled tins under the noses of people in shopping centres. Sometimes enough money was given to pay for the urgently-needed treatment. If not, their children died.

Quite recently, my daughter fell dangerously ill while on holiday abroad, and needed an urgent and difficult operation. She was taken to a hospital, but the staff would not proceed until they had the go-ahead from her holiday insurance company. Had she not been insured, she might well have died.

Another childhood memory is of going to the dentist. I found it a nightmare. There were some good dentists around, but my parents couldn’t pay very much, so I went to the cheapest. I wasn’t given an injection, and when my tooth was drilled it was very painful indeed.

Luckily the dentist worked very quickly, but asked my parents for what was a very large sum of money. I suppose if the dentist had done the job well, it would have been worthwhile. However the little bit of filling that he had used soon dropped out. When this filling came out, so did the cotton wool which he’d used to pack the hole to save money.

It’s all very different now. I don’t get any tremors when my dentist does an examination. At first, he had to do a lot of work on my teeth. But he made very sure that I didn’t feel any discomfort. In fact he was so skilled, that in the middle of a root-canal filling, I found myself dropping off to sleep!

Good health doesn’t come cheap and the cost of keeping people alive and well rises each year. New medicines and operations become possible, but the amount of money that can be spent is limited. The question is, “Do we raise taxes to foot the growing bill, or put a ceiling on the National Health Service budget?”

I’m very glad I don’t have to make these decisions. It will be one of the next Government‘s first jobs. But we can all do something to help the NHS balance the books. If we eat too much, and do no exercise, we may fall ill and cost taxpayers a lot of money. People who are very unwell through no fault of their own, can find there is less cash available for their treatment.

I am lucky to have access to an excellent health centre and a very fine GP. But we must all play our part in staying well by eating properly and taking some exercise every day. This way we can save the NHS money, and help those who are less fortunate than we are.