The NHS is underfunded? I’m not sure that’s the problem

PUBLISHED: 14:30 30 July 2019 | UPDATED: 14:30 30 July 2019

James won't be asking Alexa for medical advice Photo: Getty images

James won't be asking Alexa for medical advice Photo: Getty images


James Marston is unimpressed with suggestions that the NHS is underfunded and that we should ask a machine that can’t see us for medical help

When I was a young reporter - at 43 I'm no longer young, apparently - people often telephoned the news desk with the oddest requests.

Odd, it seemed to us, because simply buying the newspaper or looking in the Yellow Pages might have answered their question.

n Can you tell me where I can find a window cleaner?

n What fetes are on this weekend?

n Where's my nearest garage as I need an MOT?

n Do you know what time 
Tesco shuts?

In fact it used to annoy us a little bit - we were often a sort of local search engine before everyone had the internet and we often wondered why people couldn't find out things for themselves.

Those phone calls gradually petered out and these days the Yellow Pages is a thing of the past. Once a ubiquitous part of life, it's hard to now imagine thumbing through a big book to find out things one might need. We just go online, don't we? Not everyone, but most of us.

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While, I suppose, the internet is a good thing - though I'm not always totally convinced - I did try living without it for a few weeks when I recently moved house.

It proved to be quite difficult, so used had I become to information and shopping and news at the instant I want it.

I note with some concern this week that we are now offered the opportunity to ask Alexa about our health complaints.

I don't have an Alexa and I'm not totally sure what it is but I thought doctors suggested we don't consult the internet to work out what's wrong with us? Have I missed the point or is that advice no longer right? Why, we pay enough after all, can't we simply have an appointment with a doctor when we want one like we used to?

The NHS, which has an edacious and perdurable appetite for money, I assume, must have so few doctors left it needs all the help it can get.

West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock who is also the secretary of state for health tweeted recently: "Today we're making sure you get the best NHS advice if you ask Alexa - harnessing tech to empower people to take better control of their health."

We might be harnessing tech but Alexa can see what you look like, can she?

And I'm concerned people will use and listen to Alexa when she might be wrong.

I'm not totally convinced the NHS is underfunded either. It is a mantra I don't easily accept. I suspect the truth is that the NHS has too many middle managers - almost every publically funded institution does - and too many resources are wasted, but also, and most importantly, that demand and expectations have risen so high, no government can keep up.

I suspect the elephant in the room is we simply can't afford to meet everyone's demands made upon the NHS and no politician dare admit it.

Added to which I don't always trust doctors - some are clever, some aren't, and too often I fear doctors oversubscribe medicines just because they are frightened of litigation - so I'm not likely to trust intelligence which is artificial.

Would you ask Alexa about your health issues? Do you think the NHS is underfunded or do you think people expect too much from it? Write to James at

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