Labour doesn’t get it: the NHS needs new ideas to survive01 August 2012
After two years of toxic political warfare over the NHS, you can be forgiven for forgetting that it was Tony Blair and his Health Secretary Alan Milburn who decided that to save the NHS they had to modernise it. They introduced choice and competition, as well as hospital ratings and specialist private sector treatment centres.
Under Ed Miliband, Labour has abandoned their vision, opposing the “creeping privatisation” that is “threatening the fabric of the NHS”. There are no panaceas in health policy, but Mr Miliband needs to rediscover his party’s reforming zeal.
Today Lord Darzi of Denham, the Labour peer and surgeon, highlights a policy that Mr Miliband should make his own. A glittering global cast is flying in for the launch of what ought to be a game-changing report by Lord Darzi’s Global Health Policy Forum. He will say that only through radical innovation can we make healthcare better, fairer and cheaper.
Health systems need to find eye-watering efficiency savings over the next decade, which means that without urgent treatment the NHS will soon be on life support. The good news is that the answers are out there: with fundamental change it is possible to get a lot more for a lot less.
If Mr Miliband wins the next election, he will find dozens of hospitals are virtually bust; so he needs to work out how to close them and still provide excellent services. Against the Kafkaesque difficulty of trying to book a GP appointment in England, America offers health plans such as Geisinger that give patients a chance to choose services shaped around them. Every possible channel is used to care for patients around the clock, with doctors, nurses and community carers co-ordinating care more effectively than in the NHS, and hospital admissions dramatically reduced.
All of this means confronting professional assumptions, but Mr Miliband must also wrestle with the vexed question of how to get people to do more for themselves. In Sweden, a project enables patients with kidney failure to do the dialysis themselves. China’s Sichuan province has pioneered a teleconferencing programme to reach patients in remote areas. Similar pilot schemes have been rolled out in Canada and Denmark.
Former Labour ministers such as Lord Darzi, James Purnell and Phil Hope have put their names to this research. Mr Miliband needs to open his mind. He must work out how to make the NHS cutting-edge again — not by reorganising the system but by liberating the next generation of innovators.