What do I want from the budget, I was asked. So I had a think. One plea was for no more pasty taxes, which I argued distracted from the more serious changes that would actually affect most people. So Osborne decided to cut the Bingo Tax, and we ended up with #bingogate. Someone obviously hadn’t been paying attention at the back. But among what I like to think of as the more serious requests to the Chancellor, I suggested the implementation of a charge of, say, £10, each time a person missed an NHS appointment.
The Chancellor didn’t listen to me then, either. (Well, to be fair, why should he?) But I see that a think tank has released a study, co-authored by former Labour health minister Lord Warner, which recommends charging a £10 monthly fee for use of the NHS. I can see where they’re coming from – which is, essentially, the same place as I’m coming from. That place being the idea that the NHS does, somehow, need to cut its costs and find alternative sources of funding. But even if we are both coming from the same basic angle, I can’t say that I agree.
As an NHS spokesman told The Telegraph: ‘The founding principles of the NHS make it universally free at point of use’, and I for one think it should remain so. That’s not to say that I’m backtracking on my original request; I’m not. I’m asking for charges for non-use of the NHS. And anyway, how would a ‘NHS membership’ even work? Someone turns up at hospital with a broken leg, or a life-threatening illness, but no membership. Then what?
I’m all for helping the NHS to save money. But how about we focus on trying to cut down on health tourism, and preventing wastage – of both time and money – instead?