The NHS has to heed our credit rating warnings

The announcement from Moody’s this morning on the UK’s credit rating is another warning that spending cannot stay as it is on public services, and this of course includes health, the biggest burden. As I wrote for the Daily Mail yesterday:

The fundamental reason for change (i.e. what should be made clear but isn’t with the Health Bill) is that we cannot afford the NHS to carry on as it is! We need to plan and improve it so we can look after the sick and elderly in the future without the NHS being a massive tax-burden.

So the first time-bomb we need to diffuse is the economic one. The credit rating agency Standard and Poor have given us warnings. Firstly we have at least 20 hospitals that are in such a financially bad way that they will need massive subsidies of tax-payers money to keep them viable. Secondly, they have also warned that rising health costs with no policy change will mean that within the next 3 years, some G20 countries will have their healthcare-related credit downgraded. We could be one of them, especially if the economy doesn’t grow and our health spending does. If we are downgraded, the cost of borrowing rises and spending on health and social care would have to be slashed.

Therefore we need to welcome more private investment in the NHS, from providers, research and from individuals. To do this the Bill enables hospitals to raise their private income cap. This will mean that they can increase income from private patients, take part in more research and clinical trials, offer office or laboratory space to e.g. small biotechnology companies. All with NHS services being protected by law.

The Bill also encourages more services to be delivered by independent companies (who pay their own overheads, staff pensions and development costs), thus saving the NHS money.

One of the big mistakes over the past months has been for the coalition to allow there to be both perceived public-private fight and real anti-business sentiments. The NHS already spends 28% of its budget in the independent sector, depending on it for everything from IT support to drugs to physio. It is an example of a fantastic partnership. Yet investor confidence is rock bottom. Those who risked setting up new businesses in the past to support the NHS have had precious little political support or appreciation. Those that want to supply services are still being stymied by banks delaying their lending decisions – what use to take 3 months now takes 12 – by which time circumstances have often changed.

I am no fan of businesses who give themselves big bonuses or make excessive profits. But the NHS has to welcome both ethical business support and more private patients. I’d like to know from where else opponents think they are going to raise the money without jeopardising our entire economy.

About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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