An unhealthy position

8 February 2012
Renata Towlson is senior buyer (best practice) at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS TrustDr Hamish Meldrum, head of the British Medical Association (BMA), said in a New Statesman article in January that said he “is anxious that the principle of ‘universality’ and ‘comprehensiveness’ on which the NHS was founded, are imperilled by the fantasy of The Health and Social Care Bill and the creation of a utopian marketplace in which private providers compete with state care”. It seems that Meldrum and the medical profession he represents are not subscribing to reforms and therefore criticising them very heavily. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with that. Constructive and well-delivered criticism should be able to improve government proposals but only if there is a counter offer. So what proposals are coming from the head of the BMA? What can be done? – asks journalist Jason Cowley. “The solution is simple”, Meldrum says. “Get rid of the market in the health service.” If the government is utopian in its proposal, at least it demonstrates an understanding of the concept of the market, because Dr Meldrum does not, but would like to get rid of it nevertheless. Nobody competes within the health sector but healthcare is universally and comprehensively delivered. I assume it is still sponsored by the government who decides how much and whom to pay. I can only presume that if budgets are tight the providers will be paid less with an expectation to deliver the same universal care. We could call it ‘healthcare communism’. Nigel Lawson said: “The NHS is the closest thing we have to a national religion in this country.” But it is not a religion and doctors are not high priests/priestesses. Human life is sacred and constitutes the highest value. The same cannot be said about healthcare. Let us remove the NHS from its altar and place it in a rightful, important dimension of social duties. But let us not make a mistake, healthcare is not free, actually is extremely costly, and as such belongs to the marketplace. Politicians try to guard fairness and transparency. More people are getting better health care today than ever before in European history. An unbelievable amount of energy and resources are poured into the service day after day. It is not perfect and it never will be, but this is not what we are worried about, are we? We have reached such an historical moment that we are seriously concerned whether we as a nation can afford the ever-growing demands put on the NHS without fundamental changes to its structure, procurement and financial models.
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