Take it from an American – the NHS is a marvel. You must vote to save it | Rob Delaney

When we lost our baby boy, I saw the NHS at its best. The Conservatives can’t be trusted with it

• Rob Delaney is the co-creator and co-writer of Catastrophe

I won’t be voting in the coming general election. I would gallop to my polling station on a horse, or even crawl there to do so, (it’s not half a mile away), but I’m not a UK citizen, so I can’t. My family and I have lived here just over five years, and we pay taxes and national insurance. We also pay the immigrant health surcharge every year for each family member, according to the terms of our visas. However, we’re not quite there yet on the path to citizenship, so no votes for us this time. But I love the UK, very much and that’s mostly down to the people who inhabit it (that includes you!) so forgive me if I weigh in.

Strange to think now, but we were planning to leave the UK and return to the US after we’d been here a couple of years. We missed our friends and the wild nature of southern California. But then our youngest son was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and his treatment began at Great Ormond Street hospital in London. While its staff were the experts in treating his cancer, my wife and I devoted our attention to keeping the family together and making sure Henry and his brothers could be together as much as possible, be it in his hospital room or on the odd visit Henry could make to our house.

I remember with joy the first time a nurse said, “I think Henry is ready to go up on the roof,” and we left the paediatric intensive care unit, and Henry felt sunlight and wind on his skin for the first time in months.

A couple of months later, another wonderful nurse said, “Think Henry’d like to take a taxi and go see his room and toys at home?” Boy, did he. We were so happy.

Twenty-one months after his diagnosis, Henry died at home, early on a January morning. He was able to do so because the NHS had turned my wife and me into expert carers, and Great Ormond Street’s palliative care team had set us up so well.

I believe I counted 13 NHS nurses at Henry’s memorial service. A doctor and one of his home carers too. Several charity workers as well. After that, we didn’t want to move right away. Henry’s death hadn’t been up to us, but inflicting an intercontinental move on our grief-stricken older boys was. Plus, our local state primary school had been taking such wonderful care of them we didn’t want to lose that invaluable resource.

So, we stayed. My wife had another baby. Unlike in the US, where home births are usually denied to women by their private insurance companies (you’re free to pay thousands out of your own pocket if you can afford it), the NHS was happy to facilitate one. Thus, our new little nugget entered the world in a pool at home, with my wife assisted by a midwife, me and our two older boys. They had seen hell with Henry, and when they asked if they could be present at the new one’s birth, we said, “Absolutely.” This was made possible by the NHS.

In the days leading up to the election, some people are asking, “How will we pay to properly fund the NHS, social care, schools and more?” While my family’s experience with NHS has been positive, the horror stories you read are also true. It is underfunded. It is being sold off piecemeal to private companies whose main priority is to make money off your ailments, injuries and prescriptions. One massive reason I’m such an NHS cheerleader, even in these bleak times, is because I grew up with the for-profit private American healthcare system.

The stress you feel surrounding your health in the UK is so much lower than in the US, thanks to the absence of financial fear. Waiting for two hours in A&E at one in the morning sucks; waiting for two hours in an American ER at one in the morning as you rehearse the speech you’ll give the billing office about how the insurance from your new job doesn’t kick in until the end of the month and you can’t afford the CT scan your child is likely to need is a whole level of stress that I pray no one in the UK ever feels.

So where does the money come from to properly fund the NHS, you’ve been trained to ask. You know what financial stress feels like. You can’t afford a Land Rover, so how the hell can the nation afford to provide home care for disabled kids? Isn’t that how it works? Well, think about this: you probably could afford a Land Rover if your income was tripled or quintupled. What if you wanted to really challenge your imagination though? And you genuinely have to stretch and warm up to imagine how much money there is just sitting around, metastasising in tax shelters and unoccupied Mayfair flats.

You’re not an idiot because you find it difficult to grapple with how wealthy UK billionaires and corporations are. Guess how many times you would have to multiply the average UK salary of £37,000 to equal what the second highest paid CEO in the UK – a man called Simon Peckham – got in 2017? If you guessed 1,162 times, congratulations. I personally make a lot of money because I won some cosmic lottery and have the incredible privilege to write and appear in TV shows and movies. But if you even “merely” doubled my income, I would immediately shit my pants in shock. And even then, I still wouldn’t buy a Land Rover as I live in London, whose world-class tube, buses and overground make owning a car unnecessary. Black cabs are great too and are fantastic for disabled travellers, as we learned with our Henry.

Above even Simon Peckham are the people whose inherited wealth just throws off interest and capital gains every year, which make the biggest salaries in the world look quaint. Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, heir to the beer fortune, could buy and sell Simon Peckham, me, and you, before breakfast. If you’re keeping track, it goes you, me, Simon Peckham, Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken. Then above Carvalho-Heineken is the UK government, rich beyond comprehension, and possessed of the ability to literally print money. This digression just scratches the surface but suffice it to say there is more cash available to strengthen the social safety net than you can imagine, even if your imagination is very supple and rubbery.

It’s a question of will. Billionaires – in particular the billionaires who own most UK newspapers – don’t want you to use your imagination though: they want you to take any dreams you have and smother them. I’d ask that you do the opposite. Dream, on a personal level and on a national level. But since faith without work is dead, please also work. Campaign to elect a government that would prioritise schools, the climate and the NHS. If people tell you we can’t afford it, you can slap that bullshit right to the floor. Read history and learn about the creation of the NHS, so beloved by my family and yours, or the gloriously successful New Deal in the US. Arm yourself with facts in your head and dreams in your heart. But get involved; the solutions to the UK’s problems lie in more democracy, not less. And, oh yeah, do feel free to tick Labour on 12 December. I’ve read the manifesto, and it’s genuinely inspiring (and fully costed just in case your imagination got strained above). And it’s entirely achievable too, if you want it. It’s up to you.

• Rob Delaney is the co-creator and co-writer of Catastrophe


Rob Delaney

The GuardianTramp

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