The National Health Service (NHS) – the “envy of the world” or a study in neo Marxism, depending on your point of view – continues to please and disappoint in equal measures. Paid for out of taxation and free at the point of delivery, free marketeers have been unable to mobilise public opinion behind substantive ideological and cultural reform.
Now Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes and newly appointed Chair of the Commons Health Select Committee, is keen to set the agenda on the NHS debate. Described by many Labour and Tory folks as being in the “wrong party,” her panacea is to lavish more taxpayer money on the service.
In a recent article in the Daily Telegraph, which is a departure from her preferred Guardian she says: “2015 will be a crunch year for NHS finances… If there is not an overall increase, it is hard to see how we could maintain current levels of service, given the rising demand from an ageing population living with multiple long-term conditions. The NHS budget has been protected in line with background inflation but that does not keep pace with inflation in health costs.”
Many would argue spending is already generous. Ring-fenced at the last election by Prime Minister David Cameron, it will consume 18 percent of government spending in 2015, which amounts to £132.6 billion. When the Tories came to power it was £102 billion. Since 1950, there have been above inflation increases in NHS expenditure every year apart from 1951/2, 1953/4 and 1977/8. In fact, real term spending has averaged 3.2 percent a year for the past 50 years.
Is throwing more money at the NHS going to work? Isabelle Joumard, Senior Economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported in 2010: “Life expectancy at birth could be raised by more than two years on average in the OECD area, holding health care spending constant, if all countries were to become as efficient as the best performers.”
Specifically, UK life expectancy would gain three years. “Efficiency gains would be large with estimates suggesting that public spending savings could amount to almost 2 percent of 2017 GDP on average for the OECD area and over 3 percent for …the United Kingdom.”
The Tax Payers’ Alliance as far back as 2008 estimated that bloated NHS bureaucracy caused 17,157 extra deaths. The death rate in the UK was 135 per 100,000 people, compared to an average of 107 across other countries. France scored best with 91.
In 2011 The Public Accounts Committee wrote a damning report on the NHS’ procurement where they say “The National Audit Office has estimated that trusts could save around £500 million annually, 10 percent of their consumables expenditure, by amalgamating small orders into larger, less frequent ones, rationalising and standardising product choices and striking committed volume deals across multiple trusts.”
While the NHS contemplates its navel, to the consternation of the Guardianistas, England’s first NHS hospital Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust is now being run by a private company, the Circle Partnership, which is co-owned and run by doctors and nurses.
Typical comments from vested interests such as trade union Unison opined: “This is a disgrace, an accident waiting to happen, putting patients at risk.” Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary screamed: “This is not what patients, public or NHS staff want.”
Never mind that they created “outstanding performance in high quality care to patients.” Devolving responsibility to workers, an example was Hinchingbrooke employee, Jenny Williams, who said: “Under the NHS routine you have to go through a particular supplier. I remember being told if I wanted a new dishwasher it would cost £5,500… now I’ve been allowed to find one myself — for £99.”
It does appear that Dr. Wollaston is looking down the telescope from the wrong end. As the UK’s deficit grows by the minute, it does not seem from the available empirical evidence that more spending is the answer. Her poor judgement with encouraging Nigel Evans’ “victims” to go to the police to file charges of rape and sexual assault did not endear her to many.
Trust me, I’m a doctor?