Labour’s new independent commission on health and social care aims to draw up plans on bringing together health services and social care so that the NHS can be financially sustainable. Launching the plans today, Ed Miliband said that ‘we must make every pound we spend go further at a time when our NHS faces the risk of being overwhelmed by a crisis in funding because of care needs by the end of this decade’.
But there is one big question that Sir John Oldham, who will chair the year-long review, won’t be asking about the long-term financial viability of the health service. It’s a question that some Labourites are well-attuned to, and that the chair of NHS England (formerly the NHS Commissioning Board) Malcolm Grant raised earlier this month. Grant told the FT that ‘it’s not my responsibility to introduce new charging systems, but it’s something which a future government will wish to reflect [on], unless the economy has picked up sufficiently, because we can anticipate demand for NHS services rising by about 4 to 5 per cent per annum’. Jeremy Hunt then confirmed to the same newspaper that he opposed more charges, and today Labour sources indicated to Coffee House that this idea was too awful to reflect on at all. A source close to Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham tells me:
‘We did not even consider it at all. It is just not something that the Labour party would even consider.’
Long-term funding and charges is something that any party considering the future of the NHS will need to mull, though, even if it concludes that reducing the health service’s free-at-the-point of access principle further (prescriptions are one example of existing charges) is too politically flammable to ever go near.
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