Page last updated at 05:26 GMT, Monday, 30 June 2008 06:26 UK

Three generations grateful for NHS

By Graham Satchell
BBC Breakfast News

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How the Fernau family's lives were shaped by the NHS

From the cradle to the grave - that was the bold claim from the Labour Government in 1948 about the NHS.

Universal health care was to be free at the point of need.

In the last 60 years the NHS has had a dramatic impact on millions of lives and on three generations of one family in particular.

Sitting round a small table in Winchelsea in Sussex are Barbara Fernau, 86, her granddaughter Victoria, 23, and Anthony Ferneau.

In front of them a cake with the words "Happy Birthday" and 60. Anthony will be 60 on 5 July - the same day the NHS started.

It was a difficult birth. Barbara was rushed to Ashford hospital in Kent with high blood pressure.

Life saver

Anthony was born with blue asphyxia.

Today he is convinced the NHS saved his life - and that of his mother.

"What would have happened if I had been born the day before the NHS started?" he asked his mother.

"If I had been at home I don't think I would have survived if I hadn't gone into hospital." said Barbara.

Victoria Fernau
Victoria Fernau is worried about the future of the NHS

"I'm very lucky to be alive - and so are you."

Most of us cannot remember life before the NHS.

There were insurance schemes for some workers - but they did not extend to wives and children.

Your health depended largely on your ability to pay.

As a child Barbara Fernau had tuberculosis and was bed bound for three years.

"All the time I was a child and I was ill my father had to pay huge doctors bills," she said.

"You just had to pay for everything and as we were always being all it must have been very expensive."

Dramatic changes

Anthony has seen dramatic changes in the last 60 years, from mass vaccinations for illnesses like polio to medical advances like keyhole surgery.

FIND OUT MORE
NHS graphic
As the NHS turns 60, BBC News is giving it a health check. Watch out for reports, features and analysis on TV, radio and the web.

Now at almost 60 Anthony has a heart condition.

It was quickly diagnosed and treated on the NHS.

"If you look at the cost of the treatment I've had over the last ten years with my heart problem and other problems it would have been a struggle to fund the treatment for that," he said.

So what of the future?

Victoria Fernau is worried about spiralling costs in the NHS and whether it will be able to provide universal care in 60 years time.

She is also worried about how the NHS might change.

As the population gets older and get fatter the NHS is likely to become much more involved in peoples lives. Perhaps even telling them how to exercise what to eat.

"Everyone knows it's right to diet and exercise," she said.

"But I don't think you can tell people what to eat.

"That goes against peoples freedom and I don't think that is right."

Whatever the challenges ahead - and there are many - the Fernau family is celebrating the NHS.

For them it is a unique British institution and a life saver.





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