I read that, once again, the National Health Service is on the brink of collapse. Drugs are becoming unaffordable, Accident and Emergency departments are short staffed, junior doctors and overworked and underpaid, nurses are overweight and going back home, and general practitioners are struggling to meet the demands of an ever ageing population.
The latest ‘scandal’ to hit the headlines is the staggering increase in the cost of drugs demanded by the pharmaceutical industry, in some cases increasing life saving drugs such as quetiapine from £1.62 to an eye watering £65, and with the industry running a virtual monopoly on pricing, the government appears to be helpless. Helpless or not, it’s called racketeering by any other name.
Surely to goodness it’s time to go back to basics and admit that with the ever increasing demands on the Health Service, we need to take some unpalatable decisions. The first must be whether we can continue offering a health service that is free at the point of delivery. Whilst this is political anathema to many, it is a step in the right direction, and it should be relatively easy to apply. Those on income support will still be able to access the service free of charge, but those who can afford it will be required to make a small payment for the privilege of seeing a doctor. By small I mean £5, or one and a half pints of beer, and if a visit to the doctor helps reduce the consumption of alcohol, so much the better. There are several countries round the world which impose a modest consultation fee, Australia for one, and the argument that the sick and needy will not seek medical assistance if they have to pay £5 for the privilege is ridiculous.
Secondly, the number of missed appointments is staggering. In my own rural surgery, they amount to 30% of ‘no shows’. This is a criminal waste of precious resources, so I propose that if the ‘no show’ wishes to book another appointment, he must pay £10.
Finally, it’s time that the medical profession re-educates itself. GPs must stop prescribing drugs every time one of their patients breaks wind, and start asking themselves if it is absolutely necessary. My own case is a case in point. I went under to repair an aneurysm, a successful operation I am pleased to say, and afterwards I was prescribed statins and pills for my blood pressure. I asked in a spirit of inquiry how long they were to be prescribed, and to my astonishment, the doctor told me for the rest of my life. I don’t like taking pills, so I said no, and in return I have a routine test for blood pressure and cholesterol. That’s all that’s needed, and if either or both are too high, I change my lifestyle and dietary habits. I don’t know how much I am saving the NHS, but I’m doing my bit.
None of us can live for ever, but it should be our responsibility, not the NHS, to ensure that we look after our bodies, so that old age is a part of life and not an intolerable burden.