The idea that the NHS can remain taxpayer-funded and free needs to be re-examined as costs rise, a Conservative health minister has said.
Lord Prior, the Government’s minister for NHS Productivity, is moving to set up an independent inquiry into whether the current free-at-the-point-of-use service is sustainable.
“At heart, our ability to have a world-class health system will depend on our ability to create the wealth in this country to fund it,” he told peers in the House of Lords who had raised the issue.
The minister said that though he personally supported the current system, demands for a change in the health service’s funding model should be examined.
“I am personally convinced that a tax-funded system is the right one. However, if demand for healthcare outstrips growth in the economy for a prolonged period, of course that premise has to be questioned,” he said.
“I would like to meet … to see whether we can frame some kind of independent inquiry—I do not think that it needs to be a royal commission,”
“The issue is: what will the long-term demand for healthcare be in this country in 10 or 20 years’ time? Will we have the economic growth to fund it?”
The Conservative election manifesto pledged that the UK would “always have access to a free and high quality health service” with the introduction of 7-day services.
The NHS has been rated by a number of studies as the most efficient major healthcare system in the developed world.
One piece of research from 2014, carried out by the US-based Commonwealth Fund, found the British system was significantly more efficient than those of the US, Switzerland, France and Germany.
Paul Evans, director of the NHS Support Federation told The Independent at the time: “It shows that the basic concept of the NHS not only works, it stands up well against all other systems.
“But within these results is a stark warning about opening up the NHS to the market and profit driven companies, like the US, as it is clearly not associated with care that is safe and effective for all.”
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
The announcement is the latest in a string of radical policies to be floated by Conservative ministers shortly after the general election campaign.
Culture Secretary John Whittingdale this week questioned the sustainability of the BBC TV licence system, while DWP Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has floated the idea of more private involvement in sickness and unemployment benefits.
The Government has also moved to print price labels on NHS drugs in order to make sick people aware of the costs of their treatment.
The comments by Lord Prior were made in the Government’s response to a parliamentary debate in the House of Lords on 9 July.
The minister added that the NHS was incredibly popular with the public and that “we have to be very careful in the messages that we give out as politicians”.
He added in a later statement to the Lords this week: "I believe fundamentally and passionately in a universal, tax-funded healthcare system—the NHS—that is free at the point of delivery and based on clinical need, not ability to pay. Having looked back on it, I do not remember uttering a word in that debate that would question that statement."
The Independent contacted the Department of Health for comment on this story. A Department of Health spokesperson said: "This is complete nonsense. This Government has made clear repeatedly that we are committed to a tax-funded NHS, free at the point of use, and as Jeremy Hunt said in the House of Commons on Thursday, there is no review on charging for NHS services. We have shown that commitment by investing the extra £8bn the NHS asked for to implement its own plan for the future.”Reuse content