This is a guest blog by Salma Abdullahi
Throughout my time doing work experience, I was exposed to both sides of the spectrum of healthcare in the UK- the NHS and the private sector. As a nation, we are consistently bombarded with news that the NHS is underfunded, underprivileged and neglected. Consequently, this has undeniably posed us with many questions. One being: With the ever increasing burden on our healthcare services, is it time patients paid to see their GPs?
To gain a wider picture, we must first understand the statistics. This graph, published in the Department of health’s annual report 2016/17, shows an increase in the amount of spending by the Department of Health on the NHS. It is likely that this spending will increase by £15 billion from 2009 to 2020. However there is only so much the government can give. Furthermore, to tackle this, major cutbacks within this NHS have occurred. With the ever growing ageing population, demand for healthcare is soon reaching its peak. Without a doubt, this will ensue a strain on the NHS.
These horrifying figures may show that forcing patients to pay to see their GPS is the only tenable option. With ever increasing demands, and its inflation adjusted annual budget rising over sevenfold from £15bn to £115bn in its 67 year history, do we need fundamental change to ensure its prosperity and longevity? However in April 2020, the nation saw the health secretary Matt Hancock announce that he would write off £13.4bn of historic NHS debt. This is only one step forward. Denying free healthcare is just a step backwards.
One thing that sets the United Kingdom aside from many other nations is our access to ‘free’ healthcare. It is something we pride ourselves in. Arguably, some may say the NHS is not free. We fund it through general taxation, with a small amount being contributed by National Insurance payments. NHS is a safe haven to many, especially the elderly. The NHS serves as a catharsis. An opportunity to release emotions and problems without being judged. Why, all of a sudden, should this be denied? Because some are not financially stable?
Before we delve deep into this question, it is essential for us to be informed about the values of the NHS. Why was it set up? When established in 1948, it was built upon the sole principle that it would provide free access to healthcare to all-regardless of social status, gender and race. The hierarchy which existed in the 20th century would cease to exist.
So by enforcing legislations which make patients pay to visit their GPs, is this not fundamentally an abnegation of the sole reason on why the NHS was made? Is it ethically moral to deny someone of healthcare because they are financially unstable?
By privatizing healthcare, the government would achieve nothing but send us back to the past where the death rate was high and the average expectance was lower than it is now. In this wise words of Winston Churchill: “ those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Like anything else in life, forcing patients to pay to see their GPS has it’s pros and cons. During my time at a private clinic, I was exposed to the vast competition within the private sector. Each was competing for the best quality of healthcare and lowest prices for a lot of its services; in order to gain profitability. Forcing patients to pay to see their GPs would commercialise our healthcare sector. Their incentive is to gain profitability for apostasy rather than looking out for the patients best interest who would become easily manipulated. Is it fair that those less informed and vulnerable become their scapegoat? By making citizens pay, the NHS would be seen as business, whose main aim is to gain profit for a competitive advantage and not a safe haven. Is this fair? This goes against what medicine truly is.
One way of looking at things is that by forcing patients to pay to see their GP, this will benefit the NHS in the long term. If people were aware that they had to pay for their healthcare, this would encourage them to live a healthy lifestyle. Patients would ensure they are eating healthily and exercising to prevent further risks of complications so they do not have to pay for their healthcare in the NHS. The common English proverb “health is wealth” applies here. This reduces the strain on NHS so would ultimately benefit the NHS in the long term.
Healthcare should be available to everyone, not only those who can afford it. Why should others such as the homeless be denied healthcare? A once unified society would now become divided. This emphasises the hierarchy which the establishment of the NHS fought to demolish. We would seem to be going back in circles.
This goes against the principles of what the NHS is: care to all. Their incentive would be to make it all about profitability. This fails to support the most vulnerable in society. To conclude, despite the ever increasing burden on our healthcare services, we should never have to pay to see our GPs.