Is the NHS wrongly named?

By Chris Bowers, Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion

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It’s possible that not everyone who recognises the acronym ‘NHS’ knows what the letters stand for. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because I’ve always felt the National Health Service is a bit of a misnomer.

To me, the body that administers our basic medical needs is not so much a health service as a National Sickness Service. We don’t use it when we’re healthy, only when we’re sick. True, in recent years it has done a lot of good work on screening for illnesses, but even that is to check whether a sickness is there – it’s not actually promoting health.

That’s why one of the less trumpeted parts of the Liberal Democrat manifesto is, for me, one of the most important. Alongside our commitment to give an extra £8bn to the NHS by 2020 and increase current funding in line with inflation over the next five years, and give a £250 annual payment to carers, there’s a commitment to preventing illness.

There are many ways of preventing illness, but the main two are healthy eating and regular exercise. On both, the country needs some serious attention to detail. We have allowed the food companies to label processed foods as ‘healthy’ when they are often anything but (I have learned to distrust the label ‘no added sugar’ as it normally means something has sweeteners which can be worse than refined sugar); pressures of time rob people of the space to cook which in turn encourages processed foods; and we have taken away many ways in which people can take easy exercise, like selling off playing fields.

I’m often pressed to explain the fundamental difference between the Lib Dems and Labour, given that I believe both to be ‘progressive’ parties motivated primarily by a wish to create a fairer society rather than by self-interest. But one big difference is that I believe the Lib Dems celebrate the individual more than Labour, albeit in the context of a cohesive society in which the least fortunate are looked after and everyone has a fair chance.

That’s why I’d love to celebrate the pursuit of individual health as a positive thing. Let the NHS push for cycle lanes so people leave the car at home and cycle to some of their local destinations. Let the NHS promote yoga and swimming clubs, and walking in the hills. Let the NHS celebrate ‘cook your own healthy food’ initiatives, from local adult education classes to Jamie Oliver. And much more.

Then it would really be worthy of its name.