A Conservative Member of Parliament has called for the NHS to be reformed by introducing charges for those who lead “unhealthy lifestyles” by drinking too much, eating junk food or leading promiscuous lives.Dr Philip Lee MP, a practicing GP, has said that there is consensus between the Tories and Labour on the NHS, but that changes would have to be made to meet growing demand.
Talking to the Sunday Express, Dr Lee argued that, thanks to “the deadly combination of ageing infrastructure, ageing people and modern lifestyle choices,” the NHS as we know it is under threat.
His solution is to introduce some form of charging, either directly or indirectly through insurance, for those who are more likely to require treatment by the NHS thanks to lifestyle choices. “We should introduce more personal responsibility into how we fund our health care,” he said.
“We all make choices in life and long may we be free to do so: what we eat, what we drink and how much we exercise. But many of these decisions can adversely affect our health. For example, consuming convenience foods which are high in fat and salt, leading sexually promiscuous private lives, drinking too much alcohol or using illicit drugs.
“Such choices often increase the cost of our health care. I believe that individuals who knowingly make unhealthy choices should meet at least part of this cost.”
Currently the health establishment is rejecting all calls to monetise any aspect of the NHS. Last night, Dr Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, told the Sunday Express: “As a family doctor, Phillip Lee understands the pressures facing GPs and he has supported the college’s calls for general practice to receive a greater share of the NHS budget. But charging patients for appointments is something that the college disagrees with.
“It would fundamentally change one of the founding principles of the NHS – that health care is free at the point of need – and penalising people for treatment associated with their lifestyle choices would be counterproductive. It would undoubtedly deter many people from seeking medical help in the early stages of illness when they can be dealt with cost-effectively and efficiently in primary care.
“What we need is more investment into general practice and at least 10,000 more GPs across the UK so that we can provide more services to all our patients and give them the care that they need, when they need it.”
However, calls for a debate on the future funding structure of the NHS are becoming more frequent. Last month Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of NHS England warned that the current system was “not fit for purpose” and needed a radical overhaul if it is to continue offering care free at the point of service.
And Ukip leader Nigel Farage told the BBC’s Andrew Neil that the debate over whether Britain should move to an insurance based system is one that “we’re all going to have to return to.”
Yet despite the obvious political nature of the debate over healthcare funding, Dr Lee has argued that the NHS should be de-polilticisied. Criticising Ed Miliband’s desire to “weaponise” the NHS, Dr Lee said “we must take politics out of health care – as we took it out of fiscal policy when we made the Bank of England independent – and set up a Royal Commission to develop a National Health Service fit for the 21st century.”
He insisted that there was close consensus on the NHS remaining a state-run system with input from the private sector, saying “Both [the Conservative and Labour Parties] are committed to our system above any of the alternatives to be found in the world.
“Both agree that our health services should be free at the point of delivery and paid for by general taxation. Both have introduced private sector provision into the system. Both regularly commit to increase spending and both have resorted to short-term fixes for political expediency.”
But, he insisted “none of this will solve problems which are practical and long term. … politics, with its emphasis on short-term horizons, cannot overcome the challenges. We need a truly national, cross-party approach.”
Fellow Tory MP and former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston told Breitbart London “I don’t agree with charging. It’s not party policy either.”