Denis Campbell is a journalist at the Guardian newspaper. He is their Health Policy Editor, which means he writes about all the different things that are happening in health. He has read your posts and comments and responded to some of them.
Dear Burnet News Club members!
In my job as a journalist at the Guardian newspaper, I write about the NHS pretty much every day. The NHS is the institution in the UK that makes the largest number of people say they are proud of it, more than that about the BBC, royal family or Team GB athletes, for example. People are born and often die with the NHS's help. Understandably people care about it a lot.
The NHS' vital role in treating illness and saving lives means that it is by far our most important public service. That task involves doctors and nurses, hospitals and GP surgeries, ambulances (and even helicopter ambulances), X-rays, injections, surgery, physiotherapists who help people to learn to move properly again after an accident or operation, and much, much more. It's also the country's biggest employer by far. It has about 1.5 million staff – maybe including some of your family.
It's recently become a big political issue too. That's because it clearly needs more money, especially as more and more people are needing medical attention. But increasing the health service's budget is difficult for the government to do, at a time when the country is trying to reduce its debt.
I am delighted to be answering your excellent questions. I hope you find my responses interesting.
Why is money not invested in home care nursing, which would work out much cheaper and save resources?
From: Kitty | Elaine Primary School
You're right. More nurses working in the care homes would be a very good idea, especially as the hundreds of older people who live there are more likely to become unwell. Doctors visiting care homes more often would also be a good idea. If that happened, care home residents would have their health needs looked after much better, and that would really help reduce the risk of them falling ill and needing to go to hospital.
However, there is a row between different parts of the NHS about who should provide medical services in care homes. Should the homes themselves employ nurses to do that? They do charge residents about £1,000-a-week to be there. Or should GPs see care home residents as patients, just like everyone else on their “list”? In some parts of the country, local NHS bodies pay GPs to visit care homes regularly, but in many places that doesn't happen. It would be good for people in care homes, and for the NHS, if this was available to all care homes.
How do the NHS make a profit?
From: Delta | St Mary's and St John's
The NHS is unique. It is the only health system in the world that is funded entirely by the taxes people pay. Unlike many other countries, people do not pay fees when they visit a doctor. It has been “free at the point of use” since it was set up in 1948.
So it isn't meant to make a profit – and it definitely doesn't! It's meant to spend all its £120 billion annual budget and not leave any money left over. But last year hospitals in England were so busy that they overspent their budget by £2.45 billion. They are expected to overspend by another £1bn this year, because they are struggling to cope with the growing numbers of people needing treatment. Hospitals also spend several billion pounds a year employing temporary staff because they don't have enough doctors, nurses and midwives, so that is expensive.
The boss of the NHS in England, Simon Stevens, and most doctors and different political parties in Parliament (the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National parties) all say that the NHS is not receiving enough money. I think they're right. But Theresa May, the Prime Minister, insists that the government has given the NHS enough.
Would you rather live in a country with a perfect medical system that you had to pay to use, or in a country with a free medical system that wasn't always good enough?
From: ME_ISA_Goodblogger, SH, Nafs_ThatBlogger and DK. | Arnhem Wharf Primary School
What a great question! It gets right to the heart of a discussion that more and more people are having about the NHS. They wonder if it can survive the way it is, given it needs more money and is struggling to give patients the quick, high-quality care they need. Some people are suggesting that the NHS should start charging people, as a way of raising much-needed extra income. If that happened people might have to pay £10 to visit a GP, for example.
I'm not going to answer your question directly. But I am going to answer it this way. I would rather live in a country in which the government agreed that the health service is the most important thing a country has and gave it the money it needs. Many European countries, such as Germany and France, put much more of their national wealth into health than we do. Their populations are healthier as a result. We should follow their lead. Theresa May is wrong to claim that the NHS is getting “more money than it asked for”. Anyone who works in the NHS would say that that's simply not true. Sometimes I wonder if the government actually wants the NHS to fail.
Jeremy Hunt should make some changes. Is it time for online appointments?
From: HBowl, HBgirl, HBstar, HBwriter | Hillbrook Primary School
Some GP surgeries do already offer patients online and Skype appointments. I can see why some people think that doing this more often would make doctors' lives less busy. It would obviously be more convenient for patients, not having to actually visit the doctor in person.
However, I don't think that such appointments can or should ever replace face-to-face contact between doctors and their patients. People are much more likely to give the doctor useful or potentially even vital information about their symptoms when they are there with her or him. That extra information could make the difference to the doctor diagnosing the illness correctly.
More generally, yes, the NHS needs to change a lot. It will celebrate its 70th birthday in July 2018. But it wasn't set up to deal with so many people living as long as they do these days. It needs to become much, much better at stopping people from becoming ill in the first place. And in my opinion, the government must do far more to encourage or even force people to lead healthier lives, and especially to eat less junk food. But maybe we'll talk about that more the next time!