The NHS Has Too Much Money (But Wastes Most of It)

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc FRSA

It is constantly claimed that the NHS needs more money. This is a lie of political proportions.

The truth is that the NHS already has too much money.

What it lacks is leadership.

No one in charge seems to know how money and resources should be spent.

Patients wait for hours, weeks and months for treatment because vast troughs full of money are wasted on pot plants, fancy furniture and obscene salaries for regiments of besuited men and women who contribute nought point zilch to patient care.

One basic problem with the NHS is that the people who work for it aren't spending their own money. And when people aren't spending their own money they do reckless, thoughtless things.

I know of so many ways in which money is wasted or stolen by NHS employees that I hardly know where to begin. Hospital consultants who have private patients as well as NHS responsibilities often arrive hours late or slip away a few hours early - leaving their NHS patients to be looked after by young doctors who are supposed to be being trained. Consultants who do this are stealing time - and money - from the NHS.

Bureaucrats, nurses and orderlies steal food, toilet rolls, disinfectant, writing paper, pens, envelopes and so on. Doctors tend to be more ambitious. They steal expensive bits of equipment which they use to equip their private consulting rooms.

The amount of money wasted because employees fail to turn off lights that aren't needed - or fail to turn down heating that isn't necessary - would pay for the building and running of several new hospitals.

Millions more are wasted on pointless and stupid paperwork and bureaucracy. The NHS is the most bureaucratic and inefficient organisation in the world.

The greed of the Government in pushing the price of a prescription up beyond the price of many constituent drugs has made life very easy for thieves.

Here’s how it works: the patient hands over a prescription and the required bundle of cash (there is one prescription charge for every item on the form). If the drug being prescribed is available without a prescription - and costs less than the prescription charge - the pharmacist simply tosses the prescription into the bin and keeps the price difference.

Not even privatising NHS hospitals has eradicated the waste.

There are some former NHS hospitals which are now run as purely private hospitals. That was a disaster. It was a Labour Government which put dozens of NHS hospitals into private hands through its absurd `Private Finance Initiative'.

The privatisation of health services through the Private Finance Initiative might have sounded a good idea to someone but the NHS now pays a fortune for having some of its hospital run for it. For example, one PFI contractor was recently revealed to have charged the NHS £333 to change a single light fitting in a hospital. (There are no decimal points missing, the sum charged really was £333.) That contractor subsequently made a profit of £37 million pounds when it sold its stake in the management of a former NHS hospital to a bank. Just how the nation benefitted from this piece of accounting nonsense I cannot imagine.

In the early 1980s I exposed NHS waste in some articles in the Daily Star (where I was a columnist at the time). I wrote the exposé after I received a computer print-out from a reader showing that the NHS was paying more for staples such as pens, paper and toilet rolls than I would pay if I bought them one at a time at a local supermarket. The editor told me that the Prime Minister was much excited by this and gave copies to every cabinet member. There was a great flurry of activity in Whitehall in general and in the NHS in particular but, of course, whenever anything is exposed any official department's first response is to search for the leak, rather than deal with the problem.

The NHS initiated an immediate enquiry designed not to find out why billions were being wasted but to discover how I had found out that billions were being wasted.

The inquiry didn't find out anything. This wasn't entirely surprising because (apart from the person who had given it to me) there was only one person in the world who knew where I'd acquired my information and they didn't bother to ask me.

(I wouldn't have told them anything if they had bothered to ask me but they didn't know that.)

And yet whenever taxes rise, the Government claims the extra money is needed for the NHS. And the Liberal Democrats want to put up income tax so that even more money can be thrown at the NHS.

But money won't cure what's wrong with the NHS.

The principle problem is that the NHS has become a bureaucratic monster. There are now more administrators than hospital beds in the NHS. The damned administrators are probably even more numerous than the cockroaches - and considerably less useful. (The cockroaches do at least clear up bits of food left rotting on the floor).

And it isn't just administrators.

The NHS is also heavily laden with committees, advisors and quangos. There are thousands of them. The bill for their tea and biscuits alone would pay for a few thousand more nurses. Any business which tried to cope with the input from so many amateurs would be a disaster. The solution is to share the authority out among the people who have the responsibility. And that is never going to happen within the NHS.

The bottom line fact is that we would all be much better off if the NHS was put to sleep and consigned to the history books as a medical failure.

It would cost considerably less for the Government to pay for private health care for us all than it costs to run the NHS.

We’d all be better off in every respect without the NHS.

But politicians are too cowardly to face the truth.

And so the NHS will struggle on. And Britain will continue to have the worst health care in the ‘developed’ world.

Adapted from Vernon Coleman’s book Doctors Kill More Patients Than Cancer, which is now available as an ebook on Amazon.

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2017

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