Chris Lancelot on…squandering NHS funds

We may have reached a watershed in the history of the NHS.

Not only has Channel 4 just screened a hard-hitting documentary on the postcode lottery, but it has also produced a detailed website to go with it (www.channel4.com/dispatches ). This allows everyone in England to check their own PCT’s performance in a number of areas, including the provision of high-cost treatments. The site also shows how to protest effectively against the local non-provision of such treatments.

It is an indictment of the NHS that this is necessary. Ours is supposed to be a ‘national’ health service. Why should patients who are physically and mentally debilitated by chronic or life-threatening disease have to worry about whether the treatment they need is available locally, or have to find the energy to fight for what others in different parts of the country receive automatically? What does it say about the running of the NHS when poor-quality local decisions are only reversed if the media are involved? What a condemnation of the sensitivity, ethics and competence of those charged with dealing with the nation’s health.

Yet none of this need ever have happened. If just a fraction of the extra £48 billion that the NHS now wastes each year were instead targeted on the provision of treatment, then postcode lotteries would be a thing of the past. The extra money is there: it’s just being used so incompetently that there is none left to treat patients.

Sadly, the present government is now so divorced from reality that it has become deaf to all criticism, even from professionals: postcode lotteries, the debacle of Connecting for Health, the lack of true choice in Choose and Book and its appallingly inefficient software, NHS Direct, the
 
£700 million overspend, cuts in hospital services, doctors and nurses being laid off. It is simply no use health secretary Patricia Hewitt crowing that ‘the NHS has had its best year ever’ when the DoH wastes money on everything that is unnecessary and spends it on nothing of importance.

Perhaps the Dispatches programme and its associated website will trigger such a groundswell of public anger and protest that the government will be forced to take note, give equality of access to healthcare throughout the land, and return some sanity to the governance of the NHS.
 
- Dr Lancelot is a GP from Lancashire.

Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com

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