A former Labour health minister has called for British citizens to pay a £10 per month “NHS membership charge”, as part of a suite of proposed reforms intended to prevent the health service “starving the rest of the public sector of resources”.
In a report published by think tank Reform, Lord Norman Warner argues NHS funding from general taxation should rise only in line with inflation to ensure health does not drain funds from other public services.
“All politicians allowed the NHS to overdose on higher budgets”
The Labour lord, who was minister for health reform in Tony Blair’s government, claims there needs to be a £10 per month NHS membership charge and other patient contributions if the NHS is to survive the next five years of austerity.
In addition, he calls for higher “sin” taxes on alcohol, tobacco and sugary foods as well as means-testing of NHS “Continuing Care”.
The report says there should be a rise in the number of people paying inheritance tax so the wealth of older people, rather than younger income tax payers, bears more of the cost.
“Even with major changes to care, it is now irresponsible to pretend to the public that current forms of taxation alone will be sufficient to provide a good quality health and care system,” it warns.
The NHS needs to be converted into a National Health and Care Service (NHCS) based on a new partnership between state and citizen, according to the authors, so it can combat the “care crisis”.
In such a model there would be integrated health and social care available locally in communities and there would be fewer, but higher quality, hospital specialist services.
As part of the NHS membership scheme, citizens would have an annual health MOT to set new responsibilities each year both for the NHS and the individual.
The report suggests the current care delivery model is outdated, unduly costs the NHS, and “limits many people’s potential to live longer and healthier lives”.
It recommends that almost all current hospital sites be maintained but with many of them remodelled as primary care centres providing more integrated care, with the fewer specialist centres offering round-the-clock consultant cover.
Ring-fenced funding for the NHS also comes in for criticism, with the suggestion that it is excessively hospital-dominated, unaffordable and a drain on other areas of the public purse.
“All politicians allowed the NHS to overdose on higher budgets without shifting more care closer to home and concentrating our specialist services on fewer, safer, more highly skilled, 24/7 centres,” said Lord Warner.
Co-author Jack O’Sullivan claimed the report did not amount to a call for another root-and-branch reorganisation of the NHS.
“This doesn’t require another big reorganisation or lots of hospital closures,” he said. “It focuses the NHS on what it can do with you rather than on what it can do to you.”
But Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “It would be the end of a health service free at the point of delivery for all those in need.
“Immediate savings could be made to the NHS by stripping out this obsession with turning the health service into a market place for private healthcare companies, when the £30bn funding crisis is looming.”
- Read the full report by Reform