Leading article: The wrong sort of medicine

Share

Gordon Brown signalled yesterday that he is preparing to give the National Health Service a 60th birthday present in the form of a "constitution". Excuse us if we do not join in the celebrations at this news.

The Prime Minister has spoken of a document that will set out "rights and responsibilities" linked to entitlement to NHS care. But talk of "responsibilities" in such a context is pretty meaningless. Will doctors have the formal power to refuse treatment to those who have not met their "responsibilities" to live healthily? This is highly unlikely since it would undermine the principle of universal access on which the NHS was founded. And if doctors began to refuse treatments on an informal basis, they would soon be challenged in the courts. As for patients' "rights", is this not merely stating the obvious? British citizens have had a "right" to treatment for 60 years.

This sort of headline-chasing gesture politics is precisely the sort of thing Mr Brown should be avoiding in 2008. With regard to the NHS, the Prime Minister should be concentrating on sorting out the actual service, rather than formulating a useless new blueprint for it.

And he should start by asking some basic questions. Why, seven years after the Government announced they would be abolished, do many hospitals still have mixed wards? A survey of 2,500 patients last March found 25 per cent had shared a ward or bay with members of the opposite sex. Why are MRSA infection rates still so high, and those of Clostridium difficile rising? Why are cancer survival rates in Britain among the lowest in Europe? Money is not the answer to any of these deficiencies. The Treasury's spending splurge on the NHS over the past eight years has not delivered good value for money. In any case, there is no more left in the public purse.

Mr Brown is correct about one thing. A central challenge for the Government is to make the NHS more holistic, like the Cuban healthcare system. The goal must be to prevent people needing treatment in the first place by encouraging healthier lifestyles.

But just as importantly, the Government must take on the vested interests that infest the monolithic NHS.

Instead of trying to run the service from Whitehall, Mr Brown should be devolving more power to local providers. More private sector treatment centres must be allowed to establish themselves. The state needs to move away from being a provider of healthcare and into a role of guarantor and commissioner of services.

The NHS enters its seventh decade this year. The best present Mr Brown could give the service (not to mention its long-suffering patients) is a heavy and uncompromising dose of reform.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all