UK Politics

The NHS Can Never Meet All the Demands Made of It & It's Time We Accepted That

10 Mar 2016 at 17:30

The NHS debate will never move on until we accept that in its current form the NHS will never meet all the demands made on it. It’s a 1940s system struggling to cope with 21st century medical advances.

Jeremy Corbyn continues to believe that all NHS treatments must be free at the point of use. That ship has sailed. It’s time for a new approach.

Most funding for the NHS will continue to come from the taxpayer, but it’s time that we also consider the principle that the user should sometimes pay. We conveniently forget that patients already pay prescription charges. From time to time, the issues of charging for hospital food or GP visits are floated, but quickly ditched until the howl of public outrage subsides. We pay for food at home, so why not in hospital?

Other countries (like Ireland) impose charges to see GPs, and let’s face it, the revenue could be used to meet part of the funding shortfall. It would also make people think twice about booking an unnecessary appointment or cancelling with no good reason. Surely a £10 charge wouldn’t be unreasonable, with opt outs for anyone on benefits.
Private sector involvement in the provision of healthcare is nothing new. Most people use private sector dentists. GPs are effectively in the private sector, as are most osteopaths and physiotherapists. A lot of primary care is provided by the private sector – the out of hours service and 111 are prime examples. Drugs are provided by private sector suppliers. Chemists and dispensaries have never been in the public sector and no one has ever suggested they should be.

People also ask why the taxpayer should pay for the treatment of people who bring their own misfortune on themselves – people who binge drink on a Friday night often end up in A&E, for example. But where do you draw the line? Charge smokers for lung cancer treatment? Charge obese people for diabetes drugs?

If a cancer patient should have the temerity to decide to use their life savings to fund their treatment using a drug which for budgetary reasons is not available via the NHS, what does the NHS do? Instead of saying ‘thank you very much for helping us out and paying for your own drugs’, it refuses to continue any treatment for that patient. See? Public good, private bad. It’s the politics of socialist envy and basically says that just because everyone can’t have it, you can’t either. Last week’s announcement that expectant mothers will be given £3,000 to pay for midwifery services. Many will use it to pay private sector midwives. And why on earth not? I hope we see more such initiatives.

This article first appeared in The New Day newspaper. Iain Dale is the author of The NHS: Things That Need to be Said

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