Leading article: A failure of nerve

Share

The warning signs are now flashing. A report commissioned by the Reform think tank has predicted that the National Health Service is facing a deficit of nearly £7bn by the end of the decade unless it takes radical action to get its spending under control.

Some symptoms of financial crisis are already appearing. A number of NHS trusts are in serious trouble, having grossly overspent their budgets. Making this bad situation worse is the fact that Gordon Brown has indicated that government spending on the NHS will begin to slow after 2008. This means the crunch could come even sooner than anticipated.

According to the author of the Reform report, Professor Nick Bosanquet of Imperial College, the only way the NHS can reduce its costs is by stepping up the pace of reform. This means improving financial controls, stopping unnecessary building programmes and increasing private sector involvement. It is difficult to find fault with this prescription. But the Government still seems to be in denial.

Yesterday the Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, questioned the Reform report's figures, arguing that it had ignored efficiency savings made in recent years. She pointed specifically to a contract to keep down the price of drugs. And today she is expected to declare that those trusts struggling on quality or cost control will have to change.

It may be too little, too late. The financial problems of the NHS go much deeper than Ms Hewitt is willing to admit. When the Government launched its NHS plan in 2000, there was no shortage of warnings that huge cash injections could be swallowed up without delivering any discernible improvement in the service. Ministers promised that the money would be spent efficiently, and that extra spending would be accompanied by reform.

Five years on, these pledges ring hollow. The Government has failed to grapple with the reality of reform. A few independent treatment centres have opened, forcing a handful of hospitals to raise their game. But the NHS is still fundamentally running as it always has - as a profligate, monolithic and inefficient healthcare provider. And now, despite the billions that have been spent over recent years, this woefully inefficient organisation finds itself stumbling into crisis.

In coming months, the Government will come under pressure to water down its plans to introduce payment by results, greater patient choice and more private sector involvement. It will be claimed that these measures will destabilise the NHS further. But failure to implement them will only make financial crisis a certainty. Timidity has not worked. Reform is now more of a necessity than ever.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Residents of the Gravesham constituency are 10 times closer to what Peter Hain scorns as the “Westminster elite” than are those of Linlithgow and East Falkirk  

Will no one stop the march of localism?

Jonathan Meades
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam