Ten years ago, when I first started writing stories about our health service, every other press conference you went to seemed to be an announcement of more money – billions to cut waiting lists, millions for new drugs, and a whole lot more borrowed money to re-build crumbling hospitals.
Oh how times have changed. Yesterday, at NHS England’s London HQ, I listened to its three most senior leaders describe just what a financial mess the organisation is now in. Despite all the talk by David Cameron of protecting the NHS budget, they predicted that by 2020 the organisation would have to find £30bn of savings – on top of the £20bn they’re currently looking for.
We’re all living longer, have more complicated health needs and there’s not enough money to pay for it all. So what’s to be done?
Oddly, despite the grim prognosis, we the public (or the patient) can actually help prevent the worse effects of the squeeze. The medical profession is now broadly agreed that the best way to treat us if we have potentially life-threatening conditions is in large specialised units with expert consultants available around the clock.
They may take longer to get to, be harder for family and friends to visit but statistically they improve your chances of coming out alive. They are also cheaper to fund.
Yet every time a local emergency department or unit in a hospital is threatened with closure people are outraged. Local MPs are forced to “take a stand” and often such “reconfigurations” end up delayed, or shelved, due to political paralysis.
We, the public, are stopping vital change from happening – and it’s not in the interests of our health.