Chris Lancelot: Whatever happened to cradle-to-grave ideals?

Forgive me for being naive, but I thought that the initials NHS stood for National ... Health ... Service: all-encompassing, proactive and free at the point of need.

But now New Labour is rationing health care. Free and universally available at the point of need? Not for Avastin or Aricept. If you are unlucky enough to be impotent, yet without underlying diabetes, for example, you have to purchase your own Viagra; if you have a renal tumour you are not allowed Sutent; and until a fortnight ago if you had AMD you had to go blind in one eye before the NHS would pay for Lucentis. (Even now the financial arrangements are a lash-up: the drug company will have to pay for anyone needing more than 14 injections.)

Although we all pay our taxes for a comprehensive health service, the government is now refusing to provide it. Worse - if patients pay for extra anti-cancer drugs they are then excluded from all NHS cancer treatment. This is malicious, bullying behaviour by the government, redolent of the worst excesses of totalitarian regimes: 'You will have what we give you: disagree and we will make you suffer.'

So the wheel has turned full circle: instead of a universal but free system which patients could sometimes pay privately to queue-jump, not even a universal health service is now provided - yet patients are victimised if they dare to purchase any of those treatments that the NHS refuses to supply.

I don't care how much these drugs cost: a principle is a principle and a promise is a promise. 'Free at the point of need', 'available to all', 'from cradle to grave' form the bedrock of the thinking behind the NHS, and New Labour cannot conveniently ditch these mantras just because they turn out to be expensive; nor should it penalise those who are prepared to pay for excluded treatment out of their own pockets.

In a true national health service all licensed drugs should be available to everyone, whatever their postcode, regardless of the cause of their illness. Sickness is sickness - and some is currently being made worse by a government which ignores the needs of individuals when they are at their most vulnerable. That this should come about under a Labour government is political treachery of the highest order.

Dr Lancelot is a GP from Lancashire. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com.

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