Time to raise the question of paying more for the NHS
- Credit: Evening News © 2009
Here's a question for you: Do you feel you pay enough for the NHS?
It's a question which hasn't really cropped up yet despite the health service frequently being in the limelight, and I suspect most people would say either 'yes' or 'I don't know'.
But with the NHS' financial future looking as solid as a junior doctor's faith in Jeremy Hunt, isn't it about time we start that debate?
Let's look at the current picture:
The NHS has to deliver £22bn in efficiency savings by 2020, and this year it faces a deficit of £2.8bn.
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Acute hospitals across the country (including our own three in Norfolk) are spending more than their income.
Some GP practices are struggling to stay financially viable.
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Clinical commissioning groups are being forced to sacrifice certain services in a bid to balance their books.
Experts agree the NHS needs to change the way it operates to meet the challenges posed by more people living longer with more complex conditions,
And there are ways in which we – the public – can help the NHS meet its financial demands.
In the UK we are obsessed with healthcare being free at the point of delivery, almost to the extent that people forget that they actually do pay for NHS services through their taxes.
That mindset means that as soon as someone suggests paying for certain services there is uproar.
But there are some cases when it seems unfair that people don't have to pay.
Missed GP and hospital appointments cost the NHS nearly £1bn a year, yet the patients responsible don't pay a penny.
Meanwhile every weekend A&E departments across the country see a number of alocohol-related patients whose inability to drink sensibly results in more pressure on hard-working NHS staff.
And if we want some medical advice about a non-emergency condition, would we really mind paying a few pence towards the NHS 111 service so that providers gained more income to hire more call-handlers?
The government rightly makes a lot of noise about people taking more responsibility for their health, and part of that responsibility should be acknowledging that there are times when we should pay for what we take out of the NHS.
Last month Norfolk County Council were able to save many services from closure by raising council tax.
Would you pay a little more to protect the health service from journeying into an increasingly unsustainable future?
At the very least we should be having a debate about it.