Politicians to consider future funding of NHS

UK politicians have launched an inquiry into whether the National Health Service should remain free at the point of use.

The House of Lords Committee on the Long-term Sustainability of the NHS is calling for evidence to its inquiry, which argues that the NHS may need a different funding system as it struggles with an annual deficit of £1.85 billion.

It also argues that the service will struggle to deal with an older population and more patients with increasingly complex long-term health needs.

The committee will be chaired by Lord Patel, an obstetrician and cross bench peer – and a major theme of the inquiry will be resourcing issues.

In a statement, Lord Patel asked if the current funding model for the NHS is realistic in the long term, and whether “new models” should be considered.

He asked if it is “time to review exactly what is provided free at the point of use”.

Other topics to be discussed include models of service delivery and integration, prevention and public engagement, and big data and informatics.

Lord Patel said in a statement: “It seems that on an almost daily basis we hear stories of one NHS crisis or another but we have not yet had a robust long-term analysis of the challenges it faces.

“The NHS is one of our most beloved institutions with principles that people value and admire but like any public service it must adapt. We need to find long term solutions.

The inquiry came at the same time as the House of Commons Health Select Committee said in a separate report that the NHS is struggling to meet demand, despite an additional £8.4 billion funding above inflation by 2020-21.

Cuts to public health undermine the preventive approach needed to keep people healthy, argued Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the committee.

Cuts to health education come at a time when there is a shortage of doctors and nurses, and training the current and future NHS workforce must be a priority, Wollaston said.

But some warn that any attempts to justify charging for the NHS must be resisted.

The call for evidence, and details about how to submit, are available on the committee’s webpage.

Many health economists say the NHS is struggling to cope not because of how it is paid for, but for the total level of funding.  The King’s Fund says NHS funding as a proportion of GDP will fall to 6.6% by 2020/21 on current spending plans, compared to 7.3% in 2014/15.  It says if spending were to keep pace with growth in the economy, by 2020/21 the health service would be spending around £158 billion at today’s prices – £16 billion more than planned.

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