On Wednesday Chancellor George Osborne will deliver his final Autumn Statement as part of this government. Many are already anticipating further harsh spending cuts and budget squeezes. On top of that, it is also expected Osborne will pledge an extra £1 billion to the NHS to cope with a recent surge in admissions.
On the other hand, Labour have already announced a £2.5 billion spending pledge to the NHS, which would be honoured halfway through the next parliament, and be paid for by money raised from mansion tax, and tackling tobacco companies and tax avoidance.
Essentially, the NHS has become a political tennis ball. If only I had my own cartoonist; the picture would be the Prime Minister and Ed Miliband in suits, holding tennis rackets, and knocking an “NHS” marked ball over a net. Nick Clegg could be umpire, and the British public would be the ballboys, ready to pick up the pieces after the politicians have had their game.
It is a common sight nowadays in political campaigns, and generally throughout a government administration; politicians with their ties over their shoulder, shaking hands, meeting patients and nurses, and using anti-bacterial soap on their visits to NHS hospitals.
The NHS is knocked around between the political parties, each trying to outdo the other in their praise of the welfare state, and how they are committed to the NHS remaining “free at the point of use”.
This is not how the NHS should be. In my opinion, the NHS should be taken out of direct government control. It should still be funded by the public via National Insurance Contribution, but the running of the NHS should be decided upon by an independent board of directors, and not impacted by policies from government.
Of course, the NHS is decentralised, with NHS Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales being separate from one another. Nevertheless, public spending cuts are cited as putting pressure on each of the government’s from each of the regions of the United Kingdom. The Scottish National Party has “ring-fenced” spending on the NHS, meaning that other areas of public spending have to be cut further in order to offset the effects on the health service.
Of course, this idea sounds almost right-wing; some may argue that it is close to privatisation. But as I said, the NHS would still receive public funding, but by making it independent could allow for businesses to invest in research and development in the health service. Ultimately, this would create a more independent NHS, but one also more approachable to business investment due to it not being so heavily tied to the state.
It would have to be regulated in order to ensure that such deals like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) did not threaten the NHS into being sold off to massive transnational corporations. It should remain in public ownership, but not state ownership.
In any case, the NHS must stop being used as a tool for politicians to use in order to pick up votes. The planned expenditure for the NHS in 2013/14 is £113.04 billion, up £48 billion a decade ago. The NHS is costing more and more, and the longer it stays at the whim of government policy, the more pressure it is going to feel.