What future the NHS (2)?

Further to my last post referring to Raymond Tallis’ staunch defence of the NHS, a second excellent health service-related talk at Hay was Andrew Edgar’s. Andrew is a philosopher at Cardiff University, and on Tuesday he gave a customarily considered account of (amongst other things) the principles underpinning the NHS and how these contrast with those associated with health care systems elsewhere in the world. I particularly appreciated Andrew’s view of the NHS as being more than a way of simply (simply?) funding and delivering health care. It is a unifying force, embodying the majority view that some things are best paid for and organised collectively. Insurance based systems, as Andrew observed, are abhorrent to many in the UK because they treat health care as a commodity and pay insufficient regard to need.

Beyond the principles, as Andrew also pointed out, lie some difficult day-to-day health service realities. These include the existence of rationing (which clearly exists, but is rarely talked about in an open way), and the fact that the system retains a capacity to grind down, and sometimes even brutalise, those who work within it. But opening the service up to market forces, along the lines happening in England with the passing of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, is no remedy. Note my reference to ‘England’ here. Quite correctly, in my view, Andrew was careful to talk of not one but four ‘NHSs’ reflecting the divergence in systems across the different countries.

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