There is no doubt that Britain’s greatest public service, the NHS, is facing a significant problem in funding. It needs a private solution, and fast.
By a private solution, I do not mean full-scale privatisation. Whilst our NHS is far from perfect, we have seen the impact that a fully privatised healthcare system can have on Americans. America spends 30 cents of every dollar on medical care, and this is wasted. This amounts to $750 billion annually. That is more than the amount ten of the most advanced economies in the world, including Britain, spend on healthcare. Yet 35% of Americans fail to pay their healthcare bills and two-thirds of bankruptcies are linked to medical bills.
Health, like education, should not come at a steep price for ordinary citizens. Yet these services should not be entirely free either. In this country, we pay National Insurance out of our salaries every month to cover the costs of the NHS.
With the amount governments since 2000 have spent on the NHS, you would be mistaken for assuming that it would be in a good condition. The Commons Health Committee has criticised the current Government’s bragging about plans to spend £8.4 billion on our health service by 2020/1, when it actually amounts to £4.5 billion thanks to the complicated formula used to calculate spending on health. Either way, healthcare spending has dramatically increased since the start of the millennium.
And governments since 1988 have brought in drastic reforms to help improve the NHS and introduce a private element to our health service. Thatcher introduced the internal market in 1988, Blair brought in foundation hospitals in 2004 and then Cameron legislated the controversial 2011 Healthcare Act. So why is it that we are still facing problems in healthcare?
The fundamental drawback of our healthcare system is that it is the most regulated in the world. When it was founded in 1948, the population was much smaller. A leading think-tank on the NHS, the King’s Fund, estimate that if our healthcare system grows at the rate it has in the last fifty years, its costs will be 20% of GDP by 2050.
Because it is so heavily-regulated, health tourists take full advantage of this service without paying a penny. Cancelled operations also cost them £600 million a year. On top of that, we are subsidising those who behave irresponsibly and expect the taxpayer to fork the bill. For example, those who fail to take responsibility for their own diets and those who embark on alcohol-fuelled ventures that result in careless accidents. How is this fair?
Brexit provides part of the solution to this crisis as the end of the free movement of workers will prevent people arriving in this country and taking advantage of our healthcare system. Jeremy Hunt is right to take on the dinosaurs of the BMA who hold our healthcare system back. But these answers do not go far enough.
The NHS needs to be deregulated and a mixed-private system needs to be implemented. For example, in Germany, the government, for-profit companies and charities each provide a third of the costs towards their healthcare system. Deregulation will also lead to patients having to pay for GP appointments, foreign visitors being forced to pay to use our NHS, and it will help make private healthcare cheaper for the rest of the population.
The majority of British people cannot afford to take out a form of private healthcare. With unsustainable numbers causing a particular strain on our NHS, it is only fair that private healthcare is made more affordable for people so that they have the choice of using either service depending upon the context of their visit to a hospital. This will also ease the pressure on local services.
We need to stop being afraid to say that the public problem of NHS funding needs a private solution. For too long, no politician has had the courage to say that we need a mixed system and a decrease in regulation. This is not 1948 anymore. If the rest of our services have been privatised, why can’t our healthcare system experience those benefits more?