I hear the cost of the NHS and how to pay for it is back on some people’s agendas. Let’s make it clear once more. We Conservatives fought the last election on a pledge to keep NHS treatment free (other than the cross party prescription charges and charges for eye and teeth treatments already introduced). I do not expect the new government to deviate from that promise. Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems still also support this approach.
I heard an interesting interview with the Labour Shadow Health Secretary where she made a number of good suggestions. She recommended buying out some of the very expensive PFI schemes the NHS is struggling to pay for. Labour should know about them, as they negotiated many of them. Now could be a good time, given low interest rates, to buy out future obligations. She wanted less use of agency staff. That’s a policy she shares with the Health Secretary. All governments have found it difficult to deliver, but that’s no reason not to try again. She proposed more use of generic pharmacueticals, with lower medicine prices. That too is cross party commonsense, but it is always worthwhile having another push.
I think a Conservative government can add to that list of helpful ideas. I will relaunch my proposal that the NHS should get better at collecting equipment when people no longer need it, and recycling it for future use. It may need maintaining or checking, but it should be cheaper if the former patient or their family drops the item back after use. The NHS should get better at charging visitors from overseas for all non urgent treatments, as they are meant to do. I am quite prepared to give them my NI number or some other support of identity for treatment if they need to make more checks on access. Easier still is to require all non urgent referrals to come through a GP, and for GP Registration to be the point at which you either register as a UK citizen with free entitlement, or a foreign user who has to pay one way or another. You should provide proof of nationality when first registering. EU visitors from the continent would qualify for free treatment but the NHS should demand payment from their sponsor states.
The NHS has hospitals and surgeries that I have seen outside my constituency that could benefit from better quality management systems. More getting things right first time, proper controls over use of expensive supplies, and working well as a team with good use of employee time are all important features of quality working that also cut costs.