How crafty of the shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham to call for a “summit” to deal with the crisis in A&E departments. If the Government refuses, it looks callous. If it agrees, it dances to Mr Burnham’s tune. In fact, a summit would solve little: it would not free up a single bed, or deliver a single X-ray, or bandage a single wound. It would do even less to deal with the long-term challenges facing the NHS.
For the list of growing demands is a familiar as well as a formidable one. New drugs and treatments add to cost and create their own demand, with the National Institute for Clinical Excellence doing its best to prioritise their use, often against a hostile press backing patient groups that, understandably, demand these be made available immediately to all. Most of all, Britons are living longer – but in poor health. As the ratio of those of working age to those beyond it deteriorates, so the strain on health and social care intensifies.
Successive governments have centralised the NHS, decentralised it, introduced market mechanisms, abolished them and spent billions on new information technology – with varying success. All have come to realise that finance is part of the problem and persuading taxpayers to pay for their cherished NHS the answer. Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, says it needs an extra £8bn a year to keep up with demand. So it does.
Each of the main political parties needs to set out in detail how it would find this money, if that is what it wishes to do. That is all we ask of them. They’ve another 17 weeks to come up with the answer.