September 29th 2009
Should a patient have to wait for eleven months for an appointment at the pain clinic at a local hospital? I pose the question because a lady who came to see me at a recent advice "surgery" found herself in exactly that position.
A few weeks ago Daniel Hannan, one of our MEPs, caused a furore by criticising, in a column for an American publication, the NHS.. The man who had received worldwide acclaim for shredding Gordon Brown during the Prime Minister's visit to the European Parliament, found himself facing hostility from the Leaders of all political parties and branded as "eccentric". His language was forthright and many British politicians would not share his radical views. That does not, though, mean that he was not correct to raise the issue.
Most of us have had good cause, at some time, to be thankful for the NHS. We all know good and dedicated nurses, consultants, doctors and ancillary staff and politicians also know that you cannot run a vast organisation without good management and good medical secretaries. To simply say "we must cut the managers" is facile and dishonest.
That does not, though, mean that there is no room for improvement.
In one recent afternoon I visited two constituents. The first, suffering from muscular dystrophy, explained with dignity how NHS services are inadequate to meet her needs and the needs of those like her. Her experience of the wheelchair service was, for example, a disgrace. I next visited a man with emphysema who, throughout the heat of summer, had been unable to go out of doors because he could not obtain reasonable supplies of the appropriate size of oxygen cylinder to fit his wheelchair. That case has now been resolved but should it require parliamentary intervention to secure an adequate service? Surely such situations are not acceptable in an NHS that is fit for purpose.
The national press, following the "Hannan article" ran several days of reports of the treatment of the elderly in hospital, of poor food and feeding and of other failings that affect, particularly, the sick and elderly.
There is much to be proud of and much to build upon within the totality that is the NHS but there are also failings that have to be corrected and there is waste and inefficiency that must be eliminated and tiers of bureaucracy that need to be subjected to much greater scrutiny.
Before a bankrupt country spends still more of scarce taxpayer's resources on the NHS an incoming government, after the next election, is going to have to make sure that we are getting value for the money that is already being spent. If France and Germany, as EU comparators, can achieve more and better then we need to know why and learn from their successes as well as our own.
I believe that where the present government has run out of steam and ideas and the will to innovate a next Conservative government will nurture and grow the National Health Service not only in terms of investment but in terms of improved healthcare for everyone. I also believe that in raising the issue, however aggressively, Dan Hannan has, in making us think and talk more about this vital issue, done us all a service.