The health service is plunging deeper into winter crisis—time for an honest review into what works, with party politics taken out of the equationby Robert Colvile / January 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
When he set up the NHS, Nye Bevan is reported to have said that “when a bedpan is dropped on a hospital floor, its noise should resound in the Palace of Westminster.” Today, it is alarm bells that are ringing—at ever-increasing volume.
The NHS is in the middle of another winter crisis, that most distressing of seasonal repeats. Ambulances are stacking up outside hospitals. A&E departments are running out of corridor space, let alone beds. Tens of thousands of non-emergency operations have been cancelled or postponed to cope with the flood of patients. Blockages are present throughout the system.
The prognosis, both short- and long-term, is grim. By the end of September 2017, 83 per cent of acute hospital trusts in England were in deficit. Demand for treatment is growing, thanks to an ageing and expanding population with more complex conditions—and the cost of treatment is also rising, thanks to the inflationary pressure of medical innovation.
Between 2021/22 and 2066/67, the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that health spending will rise from 6.9 per cent of GDP to 12.6 per cent. Just keeping pace with “non-demographic cost pressures” (such as medical price inflation) will take extra spending of £88 billion per year in today’s money. Yet the period between 2010 and 2021 will see the biggest drop in NHS spending as a share of GDP since the service was founded.
Everyone from Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, to the average punter accepts that the NHS needs more money. But it’s not just about cash. As it marks its 70th anniversary, it is becoming increasingly clear that the NHS is—like so many elderly patients—suffering from multiple debilitating conditions.
“By 2066/67, the NHS will need an extra £88 billion in funding per year”
In 2015, it was ranked 19th out of 31 European countries for stroke deaths, and in the bottom third of countries for heart attack deaths. In terms of cancer survival, we are 20th out of 23 for breast and bowel cancer survival, and 21st for cervical cancer: our overall peers for survival following a diagnosis are Chile and Poland. Health care isn’t joined up with social care. The rich have dramatically higher healthy life expectancy than the poor. We can’t decide whether private sector involvement in the health system is good or bad, and seem allergic to many of the revenue-raising approaches that are…