Max Pemberton

Wasting away

The unintended consequence has been spiralling costs

The NHS is in dire straits. I never thought I’d say this but as a doctor, and having seen the extent of the current crisis, I’d be scared if a family member had to go into hospital. Despite the best efforts of staff, the pressures are such that it’s all too easy for mistakes to be made. Doctors and nurses are going to work fearful of the situation they will find. They know how unsafe it is, and yet they are utterly powerless to do anything about it.

The predictable response is to call for more money to be hurled at the NHS. It’s all because of cuts, they say. Yet a report last year from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research found that health spending is at its highest level in history, and that Jeremy Corbyn’s accusations that the Tories have presided over ‘deep cuts’ to the NHS budget are simply wrong. The annual spend on the NHS has now reached £2,160 per person and the figure has continued to rise steadily in terms of a fraction of Britain’s total income, increasing from 4.7 per cent in 1997 to 7.4 per cent last year.

What’s really happening is that demand is outstripping supply: the increase in money hasn’t been sufficient to cover the increasing pressures of an ageing population, higher expectations and advances in medicine. There’s no doubt that when compared with other EU countries, we are not spending similar levels as a proportion of GDP. While we spend about 8 per cent of GDP on health, countries such as France and Germany spend nearly 12 per cent. We have fewer beds, fewer nurses and fewer doctors per patient than the rest of Europe.

But rather than throwing more money at the NHS, it makes better sense to ensure the money is being spent wisely.

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