The NHS celebrates its 70th birthday this year. Not only is the NHS a loved institution in the UK, but it's also envied across the world for the fact that it offers value for money and provides universal coverage. The summer of 2018 will be spent celebrating the 70th birthday of this iconic system, however, many people will be sceptical of the celebrations considering the recent media coverage of an ‘NHS in crisis’.
When the NHS began, the average life expectancy for men was 66 and women 71. Now, the life expectancy has risen 13 years for men at 79 and 12 years for women at 83 years old. With this incredible increase in life expectancy over a relatively short time, it is almost no surprise that the NHS is buckling with an increase in population and the fact it supports everyone from birth until death. However, the spiralling costs of an ageing population do not go hand in hand with building a sustainable NHS.
Since the financial crisis, the NHS budget has had an annual rise of only 1.2% above inflation. Before the austerity measures were implemented, the NHS budget received a yearly increase of 4% above inflation. Right now, it is predicted that funding in NHS England alone needs to increase by £20 billion more than planned.
Many schemes and programmes have been introduced in the NHS to help make savings, such as taking the US ‘accountable care’ approach. However, almost all are met with many legal challenges. This makes it difficult to create new legislation and, therefore, make the necessary savings it desperately requires.
The Future's Not So Bright
As NHS England has to deal with over 1.4 million patients every single day, questions are raised as to whether the NHS can cope and will continue to meet patient needs. Even the British Medical Journal state; “the debate is at a critical point about the service’s very essence and its sustainability”.
With new figures suggesting that the NHS needs £2,000 in tax from every household in the UK, just to stay afloat, will taxpayers be willing to pay for the price hike? It may be a difficult pill to swallow for taxpayers considering there is not currently a solution to cut A&E waiting times. Nor is there the necessary support for the ageing population or help with the increase in chronic illnesses. This is coupled with the pressure for adequate mental health services as well as the knock-on effect of adult social care shortages.
It may seem that a sustainable solution needs to be implemented with urgency before taxpayers should be expected to plug the funding deficit.