Tuesday, 30 March 2010

NHS cuts or efficiency savings..?

As we rapidly approach the General Election the main political parties seem to be trying to out do each other with their spending plans (or non-spending plans to be more accurate). I read that the NHS is expected to save £4bn in the next couple of years and up to £20bn by 2014.

Thats a lot of pennies. Of course the politicians hate to talk in terms of cuts to spending so its called 'efficiency savings'. Surely this then implies that they have been throwing money at the NHS without bothering to check if its spend efficiently? Curiously this seems to happen all the time at the Ministry of Defence. They always seem to pay far too much, get the items (planes/helicopters) far too late and then their not even fit for purpose. I must confess I don't understand funding billions for the killing industry but then cutting funding for the life-saving one?
Anyway, I'm not a politician - thank God. I don't have to worry about balancing the books. But what if they decided to make the NHS independent of political control, like the Bank of England (fat chance)?

If you had to cut the NHS budget by £4bn what would you target?

Choose and Book? Where most patients want to choose their local hospital and the booking process is unnecessarily complex? Well that’s £200million, of course you have to replace it with something - which will have its own costs. What about the entire National Programme for IT? That’s meant to have cost £2.3bn over 3 years, now £12+bn and its still not finished. I don't think you can get a refund sadly so it may not actually save that much by scrapping it.
Homeopathy on the NHS - clearly a waste of money but would only save £4m. Independent Sector Treatment centres - ah, now that scrapping area might save a fair few quid seeing as they seem to get paid regardless of whether they do the work or not. What about the Private Finance Initiative scheme which is funding over 100 hospitals? That’s a whopping £10.9billion but by the time the final payments are made in 2048 that will be £62.6bn - again, can't get a refund and can't pull out of existing schemes but stopping wasting money on future schemes would seem sensible. How about restricting prescribing to a limited list of cheap and cheerful generics? Or is that a step too far?

Of course you could go to all this trouble by shafting the NHS and then bankers waste billions on some hair-brained-get-rich-quick scheme, need another bailout and then we are back to square one again.

Ultimately I know what will happen. GPs will get it in the neck. Funding will be reduced, we'll be berated in the press for being greedy bastards and its only a matter of time before our pensions are plundered. None of this will fix the problems but it takes the heat of the MPs and we are an easy target as we never seem to do anything about it.