EVERYBODY has an opinion on the National Health Service. And why not? After all, we’re the ones who pay for it.

But how constructive and helpful those opinions are in developing a working model for the NHS is open to debate.

We all want the best possible service when we need it. And it’s at that point of need that we become most vociferous because our pain and discomfort crowds out any wider judgement: we want relief and we want it now and if we don’t get it then the NHS is “rubbish” and “failing” and it’s all the fault of the Government.

Not many stop to think about how immensely complex and wide-ranging the NHS has become and how vast is the challenge facing those who do their best to run it.

And I’m not talking here about the front-line service offered by doctors, nurses, receptionists and the rest as they deal with our health issues. I, like so many people, have had personal experience of the commitment, skill, dedication and passion that so many health professionals put into their daily roles.

It’s not only personal gratitude, either: I have many reasons to thank the incredible people who have ministered to numerous sick or dying relatives and friends over the course of my lifetime.

No, I’m talking about those who face the Herculean task of making the money stretch to provide the kind of care we all selfishly expect, the people who have to deliver on the targets that we, as a nation, have allowed ourselves to believe are our right in this impatient, consumer-led, self-centric society we have created.

Is it really so bad that we have to suffer some extra discomfort while we wait for non-urgent operations? Do we really have a right to expect gastric bands and liposuction on demand when we haven’t done anything to help ourselves overcome the fall-out from non-medical conditions such as gluttony?

How many people, when asked their opinion on what they require from the health service, genuinely think about whether everything we say we want is affordable?

The NHS was founded in 1948 on the key principles that services would be free at the point of use, everyone would be eligible for care (including visitors to the country) and it would be financed from central taxation.

But within just a few years there was already concern about the escalating costs of meeting those demands, which led to the introduction of prescription charges and dental care fees as soon as 1952.

Those concerns have been present and growing ever since.

Of course, the NHS has been a victim of its own success. When it was established, no-one really accounted for the fact that its creation would lead to greatly-improved life-expectancy and a huge expansion of services.

According to independent health research by the King’s Fund, NHS spending has largely been protected in recent years while welfare, local government and the police have all been squeezed. Despite that, NHS providers in 2015/16 ended the year with a record £2.45 billion deficit.

Why? Because demand increased massively in the same period: an 18 per cent increase in Accident & Emergency attendances between 2003/4 and 2015/16; a 39.5 per cent increase in outpatient attendances over the same timescale… and so on.

And the reasons are not hard to spot. Between the same years, there was a 10 per cent increase in the population and a 40 per cent increase in the number of people aged over 85.

But that’s not all: the King’s Fund believes that another key factor in driving up demand is patients’ rising expectations regarding quality of care and speed of access.

The real question, then, is this: if we expect that level of service, how are we going to pay for it?

And the only answer – if we are determined to protect the key principles and avoid biting the bullet of privatisation of some NHS services – is surely by increased taxation?

So, when Healthwatch Bradford & District (on behalf of the local NHS, CCGs, Bradford Council and community organisations) carries out its “big conversation” with local people during this month and next, one fact it must make clear to the public is that, as things stand, they can’t have everything they want when they want it.

If we could only get away from party politics on this issue and get people to understand that it’s us, the longer-living, more-demanding consumer, and not “the mean old Tories” that are the root of the problem, I believe the British public would eventually form a consensus around the notion that we should all pay more tax to get the NHS we want. In much the same way that most people say they would be willing to pay more tax to fund more bobbies on the beat.

To my mind, it would be far better for all if the Government could break away from the notion of general taxation and set up descriptive, ring-fenced taxes that all of us could understand immediately. Instead of just paying “Income Tax” we should all pay a Health Tax, a Law & Order Tax and a Defence Tax with everything else paid for out of a General Tax.

At least then we could all see at a glance what we’re paying for – and it would help avoid the kind of furore that has developed around indirect taxation such as the £2.4 million in car parking charges collected by Airedale Hospital over the last three years, for instance.

If people don’t want to pay to park at hospitals – where, in the case of Airedale, the charges are collected to pay for maintenance, security, CCTV and patient services – they could surely understand that their Health Tax payments would have to go up accordingly?

In other words, if you want to cure the NHS, put up or shut up.