NHS: NO SINGLE ANSWER

Our NHS is forever a subject for concern. Never more so than during the winter months. As with so many things it is not what it achieves – patient satisfaction remains remarkably high – but what it gets wrong that makes the headlines. That is only natural. Yet it does mean a constant call for more money as if it is the only solution. That answer is far too simplistic.

It is true, of course, that extra resources will always be needed so long as life expectancy continues to increase. Like a motor car the human body as it gets older will need care and maintenance. Medical science yields a steady output of new drugs and treatments ensuring that more and more killer conditions of the past can now be overcome. However, these scientific advances in the early days are nearly always extremely expensive. Needless to say, a fresh demand is created by the potential beneficiaries.

All that understood, money is only part of the answer. First and foremost more regard must be had for health and wellbeing. People need to be discouraged from smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol. Then there is the issue of obesity which in too many cases is self-inflicted.

We have, thank goodness, got away from a situation in which people could not afford medical treatment, but by now the NHS has become so much a part of the nation’s DNA that at the first sign of a problem, people go to the doctor. Our GPs say that around 25% of patients attending their surgeries are doing so unnecessarily. One GP put the figure as high as 65%. There is also an opposite problem – that of patients failing to keep appointments. For one or other reason A&E Departments at our major hospitals report that as many as 40% of attendees are turning up with complaints well below the threshold of what A&E is all about.

There needs to be increased public recognition that a doctor’s surgery need not be the first port of call. Greater use should be made of the expertise of pharmacists. As well as being reliable it may also be cheaper. My late father was a pharmacist and he would often tell me about customers who readily paid a prescription charge for an item which could have been bought off the shelf for half the price.

The Government is providing more resources. Activity in the NHS overall is rising. More doctors are in training. But supply will find it hard to keep up with demand so long as these other matters fail to be recognised.