We live in exciting times.
At least we do if the government's announcements in respect to the National Health Service are to be believed. Primary Care Trusts are going to be abolished; supposedly meaning less money spent on bureaucracy and managers, and more money for front line health services. Best of all, GPs are going to be given control of a large part of the budget. Surely that has all got to be good? Well, many people thought so at first. However, the reality is now beginning to sink in, and the initial promises do not look so sparkling.
The NHS is an institution that many of us have known and taken for granted during our entire lives. We are accustomed to the freedom of visiting our GPs without worrying about the cost. Neither have we had to give thought to the price of the investigations, prescriptions, or operations which might be necessary. In short, we have benefitted from a health service that many other countries have looked upon with envy.
Times, however, are changing, and the changes will affect us all. Along with many other public services, the NHS has to take a long hard look at its finances. Many GPs have understandably taken the view that our job is to look after people's health; how it is all paid for is someone else's problem. No longer can that be the case. Local GPs are already working together in anticipation of the change 2013 will bring, and the message is daunting. We simply cannot afford everything we do.
Which begs the question as to what the NHS is really for? How prepared are we to discontinue specific services, reduce the level of prescribing for some drugs, or see waiting times become longer for certain operations? It is a debate which successive governments have shied away from, preferring the delusion that the NHS can afford to do everything. The truth is it cannot, and the general public needs to know that. The public equally needs to be involved now in shaping the local services for the future. Bringing the money nearer to those who spend it means greater responsibility. However, the responsibility belongs to everyone, not just the local doctors.
After all, whilst we are often thought to work miracles, when it comes to a lack of cash, I am afraid we are not magicians.
(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Wednesday 6th October 2010)