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Mark Radcliffe

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‘The NHS was not created to be a big money-spinner’

Those of you who have been on holiday recently may have noticed that the modern flight has become one squashed and rubbish shopping opportunity. We, the captive audience, sit quietly as hawkers in polyester uniforms parade their wares before us. And we ignore them, at least until they bring out the triangular chocolate.

Once upon a time, you boarded the plane, waited for your microwaved meal and listened to ‘Radio Bland’, knowing that before you landed someone would try to sell you 200 Silk Cut and a bottle of Martini for 80p. Now those flight attendants are up and down that aisle like Olympic sprinters.

Want a cup of tea? £3.50. Some water? £2.50 plus £1 for a cup. You want a meal? £6. If you want a seat with armrests that
will be an extra £5 per arm. Oh, and in case of an emergency, you may need an oxygen mask and lifejacket and we suggest you pay for those up front.

And the added extras don’t end there. We have just returned from a lovely short break to Kefalonia where we found we had to pay extra for non-essentials like toilet roll, pillows and a window. Business people say it is transparent pricing but we know it is desperate profiteering.

It is indicative of the financial squeeze that everyone, including the health service, is feeling. We are of course already used to patients paying for dentists and prescriptions and ‘social care’ (in England at least). And car parking, telephones and televisions. Currently, we stop short of paying for the extra pillow and laundering facilities but we know, don’t we, that everything costs money. And we know as well that everything is an opportunity to ‘balance the books’.

And it is with our books that our first responsibility lies, it seems. In the same way as air flight attendants know that it is their job to turn a profit at every opportunity, nurses know that saving money and recognising what amounts to a reasonable cost, and what doesn’t, is part of theirs.

Perhaps the template for the modern health service has been created by airlines, the holiday companies or by businesses generally, and in future, as the health service continues to carve out its role in the marketplace, nurses will be following the drugs round with books, magazines and a snack trolley, a choice of films from £4 and perhaps the chance – for just an extra £27 – to have your X-rays coloured in and your appendix encased in a glass bookend.

Unthinkable? Of course it is. The idea of defining a trust as successful based on its capacity for financial effectiveness and ingenuity is clearly impossible, right? Of course it is. It’ll never happen. Move along now. There’s nothing to see here.

Want to read more of Mark Radcliffe’s opinions? Just click on the 'more by this author' link at the top of the page

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