A European perspective on the NHS

Reformer article 10th August 2018 

4 broken ribs after a trip on a pavement on holiday this summer gave me a closer encounter with the Italian health service than I wished!

European Union E111 Card

Fortunately I had remembered to renew my E111 card which covered the costs of health care – a stark reminder of yet another advantage of being in the European Union. Without the E111 card, I would have required to pay.

Two days in an Italian hospital were interesting. The care and food was excellent – and there was a high emphasis on thorough cleaning of the ward.

NHS needs change

The National Health Service is rightly regarded as one of Britain’s key institutions – providing free health care (unlike the USA for example where poorer people can be left with very limited health care).

But the NHS is struggling with growing demand – with Government waiting times targets frequently broken, the stress of delays in seeing specialists, repeat visits for different tests, poorer outcomes than some other countries.

The Netherlands have one of the highest rated systems, funded by a compulsory health insurance – but with a separate social insurance fund from general taxation to cover mental health, elderly care and end of life care. The German system is funded by payments of about 13% salary, while the Swedish system is run by the 21 local Councils – but charges people for seeing the GP or for prescriptions, albeit with a yearly cap.

Long term NHS funding

More funding is vital. A high level Report, commissioned by the Liberal Democrats this year, proposed replacing National Insurance by a dedicated Health & Care tax to ensure sustainable long-term funding of the NHS.

But money is not the only thing. The NHS also needs more local accountability, rapid and comprehensive access to diagnostic tests, a greater priority on mental health services and to become a national health service rather than a national sickness service to counter pressures from growing obesity and life style issues.

The NHS has been a valued friend for 70 years. The time is right for a comprehensive reassessment of the NHS, its role, funding and priorities to ensure it does the job for the next century.

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