The NHS Costs Ten Times its 1967 Budget

The NHS is operating in a world it wasn’t designed for. Every option needs to be on the table, and calmly evaluated, if we are to save it.


There seems to be a very clear sense of liberation that retired politicians feel, finally being able to say what they mean and want without fear of backlash. It’s understandable: they’re no longer accountable to anybody and don’t have to worry about re-election. No more press agents telling you what you can and cannot say, lest the papers write something damning about the party.

The unfortunate irony with this is that we long for the people who run our country to be straight-talking and clear in their thinking. We like them to be head-strong and have a no-nonsense attitude about them, yet the only people who act this way are cocky journalists or the retired.

I think this might explain why Jeremy Corbyn is so popular with such a small number of people. This minority has been waiting for someone to lead them and represent their beliefs properly, without worrying about all of the anxieties that come with being a politician. Other Labour MPs long in the public eye, like Diane Abbott, clearly believe in many of the same things as Corbyn. But they kept those beliefs quiet, too careful with their careers to challenge the consensus. The problem is that this set of ideals renders the Labour Party unelectable.

I found myself slightly wanting Ann Widdecombe to come back into the political fray after seeing her perform on Question Time. Widdecombe’s words on the NHS made me think about it in a way I hadn’t done before. But Widdecombe’s call for an urgent, non-partisan debate on the future of the NHS made things so much simpler. Cut the euphemism and the rhetoric, let’s debate how we fund and organise the NHS, and examine every suggestion, including part or full privatisation.

The fact is, both the Conservatives and Labour use the NHS as a political weapon, saying they are spending more or they don’t spend enough; and this out-bidding hides the structural problems from their audience. But Ann Widdecombe made a very good point: the original ideas on which the NHS was founded are now outdated.

Widdecombe: “The Health Service was set off on three completely false premises…that as we all got healthier demand would decline…That the demographics would stay roughly the same – we’ve now got fifteen thousand centenarians – and that we’d be able to meet a very large proportion of it from what was then called ‘the stamp’, from National Insurance. All those three principles have proved wrong.”

Seriously, click the links and watch the speech.

The NHS was set up in its current format with now age-old principles in mind. The NHS should either develop to meet the demands of the time, or it will die. It is as simple as that.

But the issue of a debate is crucial. The NHS needs to evolve, not just be given more money, and in order to work out it’s destination, there needs to be a debate about how to sustain a well-functioning service.

NHS Bill Rally at Westminster

Is “save” synonymous with “bury our heads in the sand?” (DPA)

This debate will be very difficult to get, as the Labour Party would not go anywhere near an “honest” debate where privatisation was even considered. For them the NHS is and always should be a completely public body, even when the NHS is unfit for purpose.

How certain are we that privatization plays no part in the answer to the NHS’s problems? Many other countries follow this model and have successful systems. But the debate is closed down beforehand by what is deemed politically possible. Opponents of privatization often write and speak as if they consider their principles to be more important than patient safety. This is dangerous policy-making. The original funding model was not designed for the society we have now, so we must think creatively.

We need to modernise, fast. The only answer deemed politically viable is more spending, more money thrown randomly at the service. This is not the revolutionary policy response we should demand from our political leaders. What we need is a debate with more light and less heat, where all options are carefully examined, including those which involve privatisation.



Julius Haswell is studying German at King’s College, Cambridge

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