March 07, 2006

Fetch Gordon Brown some aspirin. He'll need it.

When a news story happens so slowly that it's practically impossible to see, it often gets ignored in favour of the fast-paced action-packed news story.

It's often left to social commentators such as Polly Toynbee in the Guardian to recognise slow-burning problems and suggest remedies. Not they'll ever do any good.

One such problem which is almost certain to cause Gordon Brown to reach for the paracetamol is, ironically, the NHS.

Sir Nigel Crisp, the chief bureaucrat in the National Health Service resigned today, admitting that the service's financial crisis was his greatest failure.

I think he's being hard on himself. The financial crisis in the NHS isn't his fault – it's the fault of government policy which is determined to use rising debt as an excuse to cut uneconomical services. Cottage hospitals will have to go not because of government targets but because of the market – or that's what they want you to think, anyway.

Because the rising debt in the NHS is a completely predictable by-product of introducing marketisation into the Health Service. Certain procedures need to be carried out, but if the government is only willing to pay 99% of that operation's cost, then the hospital performing the operation will go into debt. Add up all the deficits and you have the £620m debt that the NHS predicted in December for this financial year (the unofficial figure is considerably closer to £1bn).

It's all well and good to try and force hospitals and NHS trusts to be more efficient by getting them to cut costs. But certain things have a fixed price, and you can't just stop performing heart bypasses because doctors cost more per hour than you've been budgeted for that operation.

Inefficiency in the NHS needs to be tackled in new ways – and ways that don't rely on market principles. Because yes cottage hospitals are relatively inefficient, but don't the positive effects of a self-sufficient local community deflect the added costs of providing health care at a local, accessible level?

Perhaps the government needs to undergo a transplant so that it realises that efficiency isn't the be-all-and-end-all of running the country.


- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Christopher Rossdale

    Nicely put – what's shocking is the blind inefficiency that's in place to showcase 'efficiency'. People waiting for months because the waiting list target for their disease has been met and there are other targets to meet – despite the fact that there are doctors and surgery rooms waiting to perform the bloody procedures.

    09 Mar 2006, 12:08


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