By Co-Founder and Managing Director Matt Gillow
In the last week or so, a fact-checker has been doing the rounds – Dominic Raab, Conservative Housing Minister, noted at the start of January that “(we’ve) put more money into the NHS… £12 billion more than in 2010.” The fact checker, despite an initial round of questioning, says he’s right. Even accounting for inflation, the healthcare budget is £12 billion more than it was in 2009-10 – and the government has even promised to inject an extra £6 billion over the course of the parliament.
This prompted mixed reactions across the political divide. Those on the Right argued this showed that under the Conservatives, the NHS is safe – the Left bit back, saying the NHS was still chronically underfunded.
The reality is this; the NHS is, currently, in crisis. Around this time every year, the NHS gets into crisis. Sometimes, that’s arguably unavoidable – winter months bring illnesses that raise demand way higher than the average for the year. But the problem isn’t that the NHS is ‘chronically underfunded’ – the problem is the NHS itself, and until we cease to shut down any sensible debate around our beleaguered healthcare system, the crises which we see each year will keep rolling in.
Consider the facts. The NHS may have topped the Commonwealth Fund Study – for efficiencies. But the NHS actually came 10th out of 11 countries in the study for health outcomes. Standards of maternity care in the NHS have been described by the Care Quality’s Commission Chief as ‘truly shocking.’ The NHS, which isn’t even a shining beacon of universal healthcare. Bar the USA, the majority of healthcare systems in the developed world are free at the point of use. So why is it the UK’s sacred cow? Why, really, is any genuine attempt at meaningful reform derided as vile, nasty, Conservative privatisation?
According to the fantastic David Laws, ‘the NHS is a system which fails to allow for the disciplines of choice, diversity and competition.’ He’s right. I recently tweeted that whilst NHS staff are incredible, the system itself is ‘unsustainable, inefficient and ineffective.’ Running it through Westminster means the NHS is helplessly subjected to twists and turns of policy, and is often knocked about to meet political objectives rather than local demand. The current model is a financial blackhole – and the popular myth that we spend less than other European nations on funding it isn’t even true. Research by the Taxpayers’ Alliance noted that despite what some believe, the UK actually spends 0.8% of GDP MORE than the OECD average, and 1% more than the average European Union member in the OECD. Yet, our cancer survival rates are shocking, and we still see the ‘crises’ roll in year on year. The Swiss have the lowest rate of avoidable deaths in Europe. The Dutch system allows for far faster access to treatment. The Japanese wipe the floor with the UK when it comes to cancer and stroke survival rates.
For me, the best step forward is a system of publicly funded health insurance. The premise being that the government still foots the bill, whilst the individual benefits from choice, competition, and flexibility that is frankly undiscernible in the current model. We gain efficiency, cut costs, and move the NHS into local communities – where the more innovative, rapidly accessible hospitals and facilities thrive.
The question of how to fix the NHS is up for debate. The first step, however, is obvious. When people’s lives are at stake, refusing to discuss a system which may have been progressive in the 1950s but is now simply unfit for business is condemnable. It’s time for a proper, national debate on the future of healthcare – and a realisation that the NHS is, quite frankly, overrated.
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Image: Wikimedia Commons