The time has come for politicians to admit to the public that the NHS as we know it is broken and that a new healthcare system is needed, argues Peter Bingle.
I have experienced the very best and worst of the NHS. With four children I have also been a regular visitor to A&E Departments at many hospitals. The experience has been varied, sometimes superb, sometimes less so. In this I am no different to anybody else.
I understand the public affection for the NHS. It is there when we are born, looks after us (with various degrees of success) during our lives and deals with most of us during our final moments. Yet the time has surely come for politicians (of all parties) to tell the public the truth and admit that the NHS as we know it is broken and a new healthcare system needs to be created which actually works. It is rather like coming to the very sad conclusion that a much-loved family pet is so ill that it needs to be taken to the vet and put to sleep.
In addition to having used the NHS all my life, I have also had the benefit of private healthcare insurance since the age of twenty-one. I also advised the Independent Healthcare Association at a time when Alan Milburn was a very radical Health Secretary and Simon Stevens was an equally radical health adviser to Tony Blair at Number 10.
The simple but brutal fact which needs to be accepted and then addressed is that there is a growing gap between the UK’s healthcare needs and the public’s willingness to pay for it. As this government has demonstrated beyond doubt, throwing ever increasing billions of pounds of public money at the NHS does not solve anything. The NHS’s appetite for devouring vast amounts of public funds is not only rapacious, it can never be satisfied.
So, what can be done? In an ideal world, the major political parties would come together and agree to a moratorium on NHS politicking. There needs to be a new political consensus on the need to be radical and brave.
But perhaps realpolitik means it will be impossible to bring a Corbyn Labour Party around the table to discuss a new approach to healthcare. If so the government needs to take the initiative.
Let me state at the outset that I am no expert in healthcare management and therefore offer the following ideas with the usual humility …
The first new approach should be for the government to include the independent sector in devising future healthcare policy. Milburn and Stevens did just that under Blair. Why not do it again now?
The second new approach should be to qualify the concept of healthcare free at the point of delivery. What is covered going forward should naturally be a matter of debate and extensive consultation but we can no longer afford a totally free NHS.
The third new approach should be to introduce a sensible charging policy for visiting GPs. It is done elsewhere in the EU and beyond and works well. There would obviously be the usual exemptions rather like NHS prescriptions. People who do not turn up for their appointment should pay a penalty.
The fourth new approach should be giving patients the right to use the independent sector if the NHS fails to deliver on its target for a particular treatment. A tariff system would need to be agreed with the independent sector. Again, this happened during the Milburn years.
The fifth new approach needs to be the merging of healthcare and social care into one system. Having to deal with more than one organisation when looking after an ageing relative or a handicapped child makes an already difficult situation even more stressful. It also cannot be the most cost effective or efficient means of service delivery.
The final new approach would involve the government asking Alan Milburn, Norman Lamb, Stephen Dorrell and other respected figures to come together to produce a new blueprint for a national healthcare system which works as opposed to an NHS which doesn’t work.
This is not a comprehensive solution to sorting out our broken healthcare system (it is simply a collection of thoughts) but the time has surely come to accept that the current system is broken beyond repair and needs to replaced. Until this happens the NHS will continue despite every best intention to fail us …