*** DEBUG END ***

NHS in crisis

17 October 2014

THE next General Election will not be won on the issue of health. Prominence will be given to the economy (correctly), welfare (ideally), immigration (regrettably), and personality (disastrously). On the other hand, it will not be won by a party that neglects health, as the recent party conferences demonstrated. From next May, the NHS can look forward to seven-days-a-week GP cover (Conservatives), shorter waiting times for mental-health treatment (Lib Dems), an extra £2.5 billion to spend (Labour), or no HIV patients from overseas (UKIP). This liberality does not extend to jam today, however: nurses, midwives, and other health workers spent a wet Monday on the streets, protesting against the Health Secretary's rejection of a pay rise for them. Despite the recent reorganisation, costing an estimated £3 billion, an estimated £5 billion is wasted each year. Poor hygiene and neglect, says the Chief Inspector of Hospitals, might be costing an additional £2.5 billion a year.

Given the size of the NHS, it might be best to think of it as a small country, inhabited by 709,333 workers at the last count, with a GDP of £113 billion (the 2013-14 budget). It operates a tourist industry, except that, unusually, the visitors are happiest when they stay the least amount of time. It was once run on Marxist lines - from each according to his ability, to each according to his need - and, were National Insurance contributions still the chief source of funding for the NHS, it would be only about £8 billion short. (The link was broken many years ago.)

There are two concerns, however. The first, inefficiency, has been touched on. The second is the inexorable growth of the need, fuelled, as our health features this week point out, by obesity and longevity. People are longer-lived and more sickly, prompting renewed attempts to change the basis of the Health Service from a Marxist to a mixed to a capitalist economy, beginning with prescription and dental charges, and ending, we now hear, with the suggestion that people pay for stays in hospital.

Free health care at point of need is not a right conjured out of thin air. It is the fruit of an efficient, visionary, and, by and large, popular system of taxation. The increasing involvement of private enterprise is a perversion of this vision; but the National Health project is being pushed in this direction by the burden of expectation, as vast resources are used up attempting to repair the damage caused by poor diet and drinking to excess, not to mention the minority who persist in smoking. Better organisation and a more motivated workforce are essential, but so, too, are new means to tackle the poor lifestyles that are dragging the NHS down.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available


Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)