A funding crunch, increased waiting times and rising demands for better social care, as well as a weary and demoralized NHS workforce, awaits whichever political party wins the next election, according to a study on the future challenges facing Britain’s healthcare system.
‘Doing more with less - Britain’s healthcare funding challenges’ is a new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by BMI Healthcare, the UK’s largest independent provider of private healthcare. The report looks at the major hurdles facing an incoming administration and the fine balance which will be required in reducing the UK’s debt levels while meeting growing healthcare demand. The report states that the combination of an ageing population, huge increases in demand for more and better social care as well as a steady rise in incidence of chronic diseases such as obesity related illnesses, will place immense pressure on already strained healthcare budgets.
A reduction in Government spending is also predicted to impact adversely the NHS’ battle to reduce waiting lists and tough decisions will have to be made on how scarce financial resources will be spread among a host of state-of-the-art but costly medical technologies. The report also warns that public sector pay-freezes, or reductions, coupled with likely spending cuts will further demoralise the NHS workforce which is already weary from years of constant reorganisation and might be resistant to further major change.
The report calls for:
- A reduction in interference in institutions and structure
- Greater empowerment and decision-making at local levels
- Less focus on targets and more on building partnerships between the public and private sector
- New thinking on funding and a growing role for the private sector
Adrian Fawcett of BMI Healthcare says, “We are now clearly at cross-roads in healthcare provision in the UK. Continuing with the traditional political rhetoric and NHS flag-waving disguises the problems we are already facing. It is imperative we start using the healthcare assets that are currently available more efficiently and not burdening the taxpayer further by continually investing in more buildings and equipment when the existing stock is not being used efficiently. There is much opportunity to use private, charity and NHS facilities so much more effectively. Our politicians need to face these issues head on. It is untenable to think that we can carry on as before, expecting the NHS to meet the changing healthcare needs of the UK on its own.”
Fawcett also suggests that tax breaks for private healthcare and new charges or co-payments for NHS services will have to be considered by the next government despite the parties' current promises to protect NHS spending. Contributions to private medical insurance should be made tax deductible and co-payments should be allowed for NHS treatment. That means that if someone is being treated on the NHS but wants a different hip joint, or a more expensive lens replacement, or a drug that the NHS does not provide, they could pay the difference, without having to pay for the whole of their care privately, as NHS rules normally demand.