Our UK health system is not (yet) for profit, so doctors and healthcare professionals are under no motivation to give you anything but the best treatment, especially since better outcomes means better ratings and less bureaucracy for them. This is true regardless of whether you are a starving student or a top earner: money just doesn't come into it.
The German system offers a big contrast to this, in that even for emergency care, if you cannot prove that you have an insurance policy that the individual doctor considers generous enough for them to make a profit from your treatment, you can simply be turned away or asked to pay as a private client. I myself was turned away from a hospital's emergency doctor because she did not want to have to deal with my European insurance card, and was told to try at a hospital an hour away.
I am in the fortunate circumstance of being able to rely somewhat on my college for assistance, in a way that most university students are unlikely to be able to. I would like to think that, were I in charge of an organisation with 4 billion pounds in assets, I too would cast a cursory glance over the welfare of those funding me. Unfortunately, many organisations strive to do the absolute legal minimum for their employees and nothing more, including where interns and temporary workers have next to no rights. It is tiring to hear congratulations about a company's increased profits, knowing that you still won't have health insurance or make minimum wage on a full time job, but at least some CEO somewhere has a second yacht. I digress for my own sake...!
During my time as UK ambassador for the European Student Think Tank, I wrote several articles, interviews and ran a national competition. This is an article that I originally wrote for the EST over the course of the last year, and if you’re interested in reading more of my work, here are the links to some further articles:
NHS in crisis?
The NHS (National Health Service) is one of the most valuable and most valued institutions in the UK. Set up in 1948 to provide healthcare that is free at the point of delivery and paid for through taxation, it has been maintained until the modern day as a system where the patient’s treatment is ‘based on clinical need, not ability to pay’.
But recently it has been claimed that the NHS is in crisis, and that it needs a massive systemic overhaul in order to continue. What could be the motivation for claiming this, and do these claims have any basis in reality?
In a 2014 report by the Commonwealth Fund, the UK health system was rated as the best when compared to the systems in 10 other highly developed countries, ranking first in almost every category whilst maintaining the second lowest expenditure per capita - clearly not a system in crisis. The United States, however, came last overall in the rankings, with spending per capita more than twice that of the UK system. The difference between them is the biggest challenge of this generation to face the NHS: that of privatisation.
The Department for Health’s funding allocation for private service providers has risen to 8% in the last financial year, and damning connections have been drawn between the Conservative MPs who voted to allow such change and their financial interests in private healthcare, though it is generally accepted even by these people that a move towards privatisation would not be a popular one. This is exemplified by a telling quote from the vice-chair of Conservative Health on the topic of charging patients additionally per appointment:
“It would be political suicide for a party to introduce this. They could only really do it if there was a feeling in the country that health services were falling apart.”
In my view, this should be a warning and not the end goal that it appeared to have become for the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who previously co-authored a book calling for the NHS to be replaced with private insurance, which, according to the above quote, could only be implemented if the NHS were ‘falling apart’. Despite strong opposition from the Labour party, the trend in this direction looks set to continue.
According to a recent report from the King’s Fund, the NHS is currently running a deficit of £1.85 billion (as of 2015/16) and is expected to make £22 billion of efficiency savings by 2020/21, despite having been rated 1st out of 11 for efficiency in the Commonwealth Fund report. The King’s Fund report also states that “[t]he principal cause of the deficit is that funding has not kept pace with the increasing demand for services”. The financial situation of the NHS due to dramatically insufficient funding is apparent when considering the graph below:
This underfunding of the NHS will mostly likely lead to the ‘crisis’ that is being used to justify privatisation. As can be seen from the United Status’ system, privatisation can mean worse service at a higher price, which could reduce standards or availability of care, ironically the very situation that the government is supposed to be combatting.
The conflict of interests between politicians and their financial involvement in business is not limited to the UK health sector - it is a growing problem across the continent and all over the world, especially in this age of ‘post-truth’ politics. If we don’t step up and engage with democracy, hold politicians to their promises and make them accountable for their decisions, then this trend is not likely to reverse in the foreseeable future.