As a result of the controversial decisions made by the coalition to transform the NHS by introducing a new Health Reform Bill, Britons have to question whether this is the beginning of the end. Leanne Johnson reports on whether the nations free health service is facing privatisation. Since the joining of the two political parties, the coalition government has foreseen many changes to brighten Britain’s economy. One transformation which has caused much controversy throughout the nation is the Health Reform Bill. The Bill is due to take effect in April 2013, and is expected to cost around £1.4bn.
As the British population is continuing to live longer and healthier lives, it is taking a damaging effect on the NHS. At the detriment of successful medical research, the government has announced that the health service needs to make a huge saving of £20bn by 2015, in order to cater for the expanding population.
Around eighty per cent of funding for the NHS comes from general taxation, for example VAT and income tax. The remaining 20 per cent stems from other elements, such as national insurance, prescriptions and treatments, income from land sales and generation schemes as well as charity donations.
Originally founded in 1948 by the Labour government, the national health service (NHS) was designed to provide high quality medical treatment, ‘free at the point of need.’ The Health Minister trusted with the launch of the new NHS, was Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan, who famously said: “We now have moral leadership of the world.”
As the Bill is currently passing through the House of Lords before being given royal assent, there has been much deliberation on whether it should ever have been put forward at all.
The changes brought with the bill will oversee the current 152 Primary Care Trusts (PCT’s) replaced with 50 new ‘clusters’, and the original 10 Strategic Health Authorities (SHA’s) to become merged into four. All of these changes will become part of a new NHS commissioning board.
Other changes to be made to the system will include General Practitioners (GP’s) to be in charge of their finances.
Inevitably effecting many areas throughout the NHS, doctors will have the added responsibility to appoint where they believe money should be spent based on the needs of their patients.
Stockton Conservative MP, James Wharton, believes that the Bill is a step forward to providing a better future for patients.
He said: “In essence I believe the Health Bill is both right and necessary given the huge pressures the NHS faces, and I am somewhat frustrated by how poorly these important changes have been presented to the public.
“Yet in spite of the changes the Government wishes to implement, there is no question whatsoever of changing the fundamental principle of the NHS – the reason our system is better and fairer than that in the US – namely the fact that it depends on need not means, that it is comprehensive and free at the point of delivery.
“Our ageing population puts ever greater demands on the NHS, as does the extraordinarily high rate of ‘medical inflation’. The cost of newer technologies and treatments – including life-saving new drugs – is constantly increasing.
“The need to act against these future pressures is one of the reasons why the Government is seeking to put in place long lasting reform to the structures of the NHS. Making it more patient-focused and less managerial.
“Of course I understand fully why this is a matter of such great sensitivity; the NHS is a national institution, and we must ensure it has a brighter future.”
As many private health companies are opening across the UK, the coalition government is pushing for private companies to offer a health service at no extra charge to the patient. Releasing pressure off NHS services enabling them to cut down on waiting lists.
The burden which is on some peoples’ minds is that the NHS could eventually lead to becoming a privatised service, like the US.
Kirkleatham Labour MP, Brenda Forster expresses her doubt in the government’s plans, she said: “My main concern about the bill is that it opens the door to privatisation. I believe that the NHS should be free at the point of entry”
The bill began its journey through the House of Lords on 8 February, after a number of amendments were made following criticsm from opposing parties.
However despite all of this, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley does not fear privatisation of the NHS. As he is confident and believes the health service can be a success, even when collaborated with a private income.
He said: “The Royal Marsden, like Great Ormond Street, is a classic example of how having a thriving private income from research, joint ventures and patients coming from overseas, can get a hospital where it can as well as being consistently recorded as one of the most excellent hospitals in the NHS.
“It has on one hand the highest level of private patient activity—or, strictly speaking, private income—and on the other hand the highest standard of NHS care. The two things are entirely compatible.”
Representing NHS staff, the Royal College of Nurses (RCN), the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the British Medical Association, are only a selection of unions fighting against the government’s plans. As they do not agree that the proposed changes will save time or money in the long run.
Royal College of Nurses (RCN) Chief Executive & General Secretary Dr Peter Carter, disagrees with Andrew Lansley as he believes that NHS staff know better on what patients need.
He said: “Nurses know how to improve care and it is vital for patients that they are listened to. The RCN has said that we will continue to raise the genuinely held concerns of our members with the Government, however our overall view remains that the bill as a whole risks damaging the NHS which our members work hard to build and support.”
So should the governments plans for a new Health Reform Bill go ahead?