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Matthew Walsh: The NHS crisis will drag on until someone has the courage to embrace radical reform

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To say that the current NHS crisis has come at a bad time for the Conservative Party would be an understatement.

As Big Ben chimed on January 1st, the general election starting pistol was fired and a lengthy four months of sparring between the political parties ensued.

The announcement this week that NHS waiting time figures were the worst in a decade – in the last quarter 92.6 per cent of patients seen within four hours – is seriously damaging for Mr Cameron’s chances of electoral success.

Andy Burnham immediately jumped on these disastrous statistics, claiming the NHS was in “crisis” and it “cannot survive five more years of David Cameron”.

Mr Burnham was wholeheartedly correct on one of his points – the NHS is indeed in “crisis”.

A whole host of factors have contributed to the NHS being in crisis for years. While some are related to its day to day running, including inefficient use of funds, ineffective management structures and overwhelming levels of bureaucracy, there are a number of external factors, such as uncontrolled immigration from EU countries.

The underlying cause of the crisis, however, lies with the failure of British political parties effectively to explore all the options to curing the disease that has crippled our healthcare system.

Any political debate on the NHS is carefully controlled. There are boundaries and they must not be crossed. Anyone who dares to talk of NHS reform will be punished.

Any hint of NHS ‘reform’ is quickly shut down because of course ‘reform’ equals privatisation and privatisation equals evil. This attitude has successfully stifled all debate on significant NHS reform for decades. As a result, the NHS is immune from productive criticism.

In 2009,Tory MEP Dan Hannan dared to suggest Britain would be better off with  a Singapore-style healthcare system. He was promptly vilified, with  Labour calling for him to lose the Tory whip. Clearly Mr Hannan forgot  the two rules of NHS reform:

1. The first rule of NHS reform is: You do not talk about NHS reform.

2. The second rule of NHS reform is: You do not talk about NHS reform.

While the NHS crisis will affect the outcome of the 2015 election, it will not be resolved whether Mr Cameron or Mr Miliband is victorious, despite their claims.

Neither Labour, nor the Conservatives, will effectively transform the NHS because they outright refuse to explore more ambitious options for change.

While it is imperative in my mind that any reform of the NHS should maintain the principle of being free at the point of use, I would not disqualify someone from proposing an alternative view as all options should be considered with nothing left off the table in order to turn our healthcare system around.

It is disappointing that in a developed western democracy, we are unable to debate something as important as our healthcare system in a well-mannered way.

At long last we are almost able to have a proper informed debate on immigration, yet the opportunity to have a full and frank discussion about the NHS is still not possible.

The current policy of both Labour and the Conservatives, to throw bad money after bad money at the NHS, will not solve the crisis. The NHS is a healthcare system; it is not sacrosanct. Until its reformation loses immunity from robust political debate, the ‘crisis’ will continue.

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Matt Walsh
Matt is Corporate Director at Media Intelligence Partners

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