The Government has been saying since it came to power that it was ring-fencing funds for the Health Service, and that is just fine. However, what it has failed to do is to recognise that the workload in the NHS is increasing on a weekly basis, and that the equipment, staffing and number of beds available is just not sufficient.
The problem is one of under-estimation. The increasing life span that so many of us are enjoying means that the average age of patients is increasing year on year.
This has to be coupled with a fact rarely mentioned by any government minister, namely, that the population of the United Kingdom has increased by seven per cent over the last ten years, and is continuing to rise. That alone should have triggered additional investment in the NHS to match such growing demand.
Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, and a working doctor, responding to a question in a Parliamentary Select Committee recently, said that the workload for GPs had increased by 10 per cent over the last ten years, with the average age of patients increasing, and a fear of loneliness being a basic cause of health problems amongst the old.
It would appear to me that it is almost inevitable that in the not too distant future, we are all going to have to make some form of payment towards our heathcare. This already happens in so far as dentistry is concerned; in fact, it is very difficult to find an NHS practice. The vast majority of us have to pay. I very much doubt that a policy of co-payment will be enacted before the next general election occurs; it is far too much of a political hot potato.
The sums needed do, however, dictate that some form of action is inevitable. Increasing life span, the average advancing age of patients, and the burgeoning costs of health care, particularly in relation to expensive drugs designed to extend life still further, means that, however unpopular, some form of patient contribution will have to be designed.
Such increasing costs of both health and pensions will dictate change. Perhaps a retirement age of 70 would be the answer, but that is another story.
* Russell Luckock is chairman of pressings firm AE Harris