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If you believe that Andrew Lansley has done all he can do to damage the NHS, think again. He has more up his sleeve.
In the latest issue of the British Medical Journal, Nigel Hawkes exposes the way the government plans to shift NHS funding away from deprived areas and divert it into more prosperous areas.
At the moment NHS resources are allocated according to a complex formula which takes into account various factors such as deprivation, disability-free life expectancy, etc. This would seem to be the right way to do things if resources are to be targeted towards those who need them most, which one imagines is the whole point of a National Health Service.
Mr Lansley would like to scrap this and move to allocating resources based on age only. The older the population of an area, the more money it will get.
At first glance, this may seem logical. One assumes that as people get older they will place more demands on the NHS. But that is a rather simplistic view. People who live longer are generally more healthy, more prosperous, and are less likely to have lived with a long-term health condition. They are probably also more likely to have private health insurance. Areas with low life-expectancy, which under this formula would get less funding, tend to be deprived areas with high levels of sickness and disability.
Not only is this plan deeply unfair, it could also be seen as a cynical political manoeuvre to buy votes with NHS resources. In a response to the BMJ article, Clare L. Bambra, Professor of Public Health at Durham University wrote:
‘Taken together, this data suggests that an age-only NHS resource allocation model which ignores the important link between deprivation and health, would disproportionately benefit those areas of England that are the most healthy, the most affluent and the most likely to vote Conservative: ‘Medicine is a social science, and politics nothing but medicine at a larger scale’.
This move by Mr Lansley seems to be just one more way in which the government is dividing the country and entrenching deprivation and disadvantage. The list is long and growing; proposals for local rates of pay in the public sector, the capping of benefits so that some areas become no-go areas for the poor, pushing more sick and disabled people into poverty. All this would be bad enough, but it is coupled with sometimes disgraceful propaganda implying that most people who are poor have only themselves to blame, and most sick people are malingerers.
Mr Lansley’s proposals fit nicely into this pattern. When patients in poor areas see their NHS services being cut and complain, many people in prosperous areas, who are having their funding increased, will wonder what all the fuss is about, perhaps concluding that the poor will never be satisfied, and are therefore not worth worrying about.
© Bernadette Meaden has written about religious, political and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is a regular contributor to Ekklesia.Tweet