Chris Lancelot on… running the nhs the old way

Patricia Hewitt has been caught out in an attack of truthfulness. In a speech to the Institute of Public Policy Research rivalling that of the chief executive of Ratner’s for honesty over and above the call of duty, she said: ‘For all the extra money, NHS productivity has remained almost unmoved. If you just count the number of patients treated, you conclude the service has become a bit less efficient.’

Then she claimed that to close hospital departments, far from cutting services, would actually improve the NHS. ‘There’s a sense that many in the health service don’t know where it’s going.’ (Too true, Ms Hewitt, too true.)

So let’s be clear about this. For all the extra £48 billion poured into the NHS each year, we’ve seen no benefits, and the NHS is rushing around like a headless chicken. That sounds to me like a cock-up on the grandest scale.

Unfortunately, ‘billion’ and ‘million’ sound similar. So let’s spell it out. We are talking about forty-eight thousand million pounds, which is achieving nothing each year.

And then she had the effrontery to call the NHS ‘a 1940s system operating in a 21st-century world.’ At the moment I’d really rather have the 1940s version, where each hospital had lots of nurses who continued in post, a matron and a hospital secretary who organised things efficiently, a lady almoner (a social worker to you and me), and actually stayed open and treated local people.

At least Ms Hewitt has now realised what nurses and doctors have believed for years: that the extra money is mostly going on the wrong things, and the core work of the NHS hasn’t improved.

So what are you going to do about it, Ms H? You talk about care going into the community, but this needs extra resources — and the hospitals still get the lion’s share of the money (those that remain open, that is). One in seven GP surgeries is substandard, yet money for primary care premises is conspicuous by its scarcity.

Perhaps your attack of honesty could go a little further, and recognise that the profession has had the right idea all along.

If only some of these wasted billions were to come the way of practising doctors and nurses, you might be surprised what we could do with it.

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

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