Monday 11 July 2011

Increased waiting times signal Government is losing control of NHS funding

A few stories in today's press got me thinking today. The first is about a man who is taking the NHS to court for refusing him a gastric bypass as, at 43, his BMI is not high enough to warrant the operation. The Daily Mail has responded to this in its typical manner with a headline screaming: 'Give me a gastric bypass! It's my human right'. Although many of the Mail's headlines are unfair this one is particularly harsh. The man in question has type 2 diabetes which has already caused him blindness in one eye, complications with his kidneys and he is now a wheelchair user. A gastric bypass has been shown to cure type 2 diabetes so this operation could literally save his life. He has already asked his Primary Care Trust (PCT) to deviate from their normal 'rules' over who is entitled to the operation on the grounds his other health issues make him an exceptional case. Yet his application was rejected. Moreover if he had lived in the neighbouring PCT he would have received the bypass without any appeals as they allow the operation for anyone with a BMI over 35.

Another article that caught my attention was a piece in the Guardian showing that NHS waiting times are increasing. The Guardian revealed that "The number of patients waiting more than six weeks for a diagnostic test has risen from 3,378 to 15,667 in the last year". Even more outrageous is "the small but growing number of cancer patients having to wait more than one or two months for treatment". This has left doctors to make the point that such delays could ultimately mean the difference between cancer killing their patients or not.

I'm not going to delve into the emotional stress faced by people waiting for diagnostic tests but instead will use the Coalition's favourite argument for reforms and talk in monetary terms.

It is clear to any rational person that delaying treatment for cancer patients or for those who are critically obese will cost the NHS more money in the long-term. Cancer that takes longer to cure costs the NHS more in bed space, consultancy time and medicine. A man who's obesity is causing diabetes to threaten his kidneys and his ability to walk will also increase costs to society, both medically and in social care.

I've spoken many times about the fact that the NHS is meant to be saving 4% every year for the next four years. Many economists believe this is impossible and as these heath rationing stories increase it seems that they are right. And what is this health rationing to achieve? Ill patients don't get better without treatment so clearly the costs won't go away unless patients are left to die or, as perhaps the Government hopes, seek private treatment.

To meet today's monetary targets, tomorrow's will be astronomical. This is seriously a case of false economics.And as we are only in year two of a five year cost saving plan it can only get worse. If something doesn't change waiting lists will soar.

The Government is so focused on pushing through its radical NHS reform plans, it seems to have lost the will to keep today's NHS functioning. Instead we are left with a postcode lottery of care and a Government insisting that waiting lists are 'broadly stable'. Tell that to the cancer patient who had to wait two months to start treatment.