NHS reforms are a key issue in the upcoming General Election in May. The Gryphon asks: can the NHS continue in its current form?
With less than 100 days left till the general election, the pollsters are still no more certain than they were in 2010 as to which party will gain the most seats in Westminster. Yet despite their unaccustomed lack of clairvoyance, they are certain that the election will be decided on 3 issues: the economy, immigration and the NHS.
Chief amongst these issues, according to polls by the BBC and The Independent, is the NHS. Despite all the squabbling, ‘weaponising’ and scaremongering, all politicians seem to agree that the NHS is in need of serious reform. In the light of the Winterbourne View, the Stafford Hospital Scandal and ever increasing waiting times, one can be forgiven for concurring with this view. Indeed, if all the political parties are certain that reform is needed, then it must be true?
Well perhaps not. The fact is there is political capital to be made for every single political party by buying into the narrative that the NHS is in crisis and consequently cannot continue the way it is.
Firstly, the Tories and the Lib Dems use this discourse to justify their ideologically driven 3 billion pound, top-down re-organisation, and the subsequent privatisation of the most profitable parts of healthcare. Labour on the other hand, want less privatisation, and can utilise the failures of the NHS in the past five years to embark on the costly endeavour of reversing this process. More importantly, the NHS is the one issue that the public genuinely trust Labour to deliver on. Keeping the public perpetually focused on it is in their electoral interests. In a similar vain to Labour, Green Party success benefits from the failures in the NHS, given that their plans involved pouring more resources into healthcare (despite the 110 billion pounds we spend on it).
Finally, UKIP. Their contention that the NHS is fit to burst as a result of the rise in population falls very neatly into their anti-immigration rhetoric. Also, their assessment that the NHS is unsustainable may be a launch pad for their preferred American-style system, which Nigel, to his lament, has let slip on more than one occasion.
In comparison to the healthcare systems of other countries, the NHS was rated best in terms of efficiency, effective care, safe care and patient-centered care.
All this is not to suggest that the NHS isn’t under pressure. There is a threat of unmandated, wholesale privatisation. There is a threat that nurses and hospital staff will be over-worked and underpaid. But arguably this has been the case for the past 30 years.
Moreover, in comparison to the healthcare systems of other countries, the NHS was rated best in terms of efficiency, effective care, safe care and patient-centered care. We even spend less as a proportion of our GDP than the USA, Netherlands, Germany, France, Denmark and Canada. Yet the NHS remains free at the point of use, is still revered across the world and is certainly not plunging us into a fiscal abyss.
I feel passionately that the NHS represents the best of Britain, demonstrating our values of fairness, compassion and equality .It is therefore every citizen’s duty to ensure that it’s as successful in the next 67 years as it has been in the last. Part of that means making informed decisions about its future, not making decisions based on sensationalised media and political spin.
In the lead up to the General Election, the question of the NHS is on everyone’s lips. Can the NHS continue in its current form and what are parties pledging to do to improve the existing system?
Health is wealth; in order for countries to prosper it needs healthy individuals. The National Health System in the UK, funded by the public, provides us with free health services at the point of delivery. Available to all individuals, rich or poor, old or young, it promises citizens that they will be taken care of if they get sick. All individuals should be able to get a good level of health treatment without financial worry.
Unfortunately however, whilst the NHS developed from a good idea, it originated at a time when centralised state socialism was at its height and perhaps free healthcare for all was something of a fantasy. In reality, general levels of care have been mediocre to low and nurses are under increasing levels of stress.
On a practical level. there have been a high number of cases of lost test results, cancellations of appointments, longer waiting times, lack of staff and poor cleanliness, all as a result of public service cuts. The amount of work that hospitals, GP surgeries and community carers will have to do going forward will cost far more than the 113 billion pound budget the government has given it to spend.
Clearly, NHS standards are largely not upheld. One of particular note is that all patients turning up at A & E must be seen within four hours. This has been missed nationally for the first time since it was introduced a decade ago.
Additionally, during the Blair years, money freely flowed to the NHS. However, in the face of the deficit, in the past five years the coalition’s spending on healthcare has barely kept up with inflation. despite a continuously aging and growing population. An aging population means more frail patients who rely largely on social care and healthcare, which clearly the NHS cannot keep up with.
Unfortunately, fiddling at the edges and covering the cracks will do nothing to solve the problem. Big and brave decisions need to be taken in the way the NHS is managed at local and national levels. In the lead up to the May 2015 General Election, the healthcare debate will be key to all Party Manifestos. David Cameron promises that a Conservative government will increase spending on the NHS to help build a country that ‘everyone is proud to call home.’ In a direct challenge to Labour, the Prime Minister says his record on the economy means that he can afford to protect spending on the health service.
Big and brave decisions need to be taken in the way the NHS is managed at local and national levels.
Conversely, Labour pledges to rescue the ailing NHS with an extra 2.5 billion pounds a year. However, this has begun to unravel after the party admitted that the money would not be available until halfway through the next parliament. Neither party have successfully outlined where the money will come from in the form of cuts and it will be very interesting to watch over the coming months as this debate unfolds.
Ultimately, what all these NHS problems point to is a demoralized and incompetent institution. Whilst the NHS was originated as a way for ‘organised compassion’, the NHS is fundamentally a bureaucracy, and bureaucracies in their nature are inevitably selfish, constructed according to the convenience of the producer not the consumer. Unfortunately, we see the NHS as such an essential and central institution to the UK that no party in the foreseeable future will attempt to fully reform the system due to fear that they will ‘foul’ it up.