A better way for hospital care I

Relieving the State of a hospital sector it has never been able to control would raise standards and reduce Britain’s national debt by close to fifteen percent.

In the private sector, if outfits fail they are reorganised, we call this bankruptcy. In the public sector, if outfits fail they are supported with our taxes—heaven knows what to call this—solidarity? compassion? How about hokum?

Yes, they keep us alive; yes, they’re free at the point of use; but let’s get real. NHS hospitals are unwholesome—hospital infections are now an NHS commonplace. They're unfriendly—try getting a diagnosis from a consultant whizzing through ward rounds. And they're inharmonious—listen to front-liners talking about clinicians, consultants about GPs, or any of them about porters. Such ill-feeling leads at best to bloody-mindedness, at worst to irregularities like the mid-Staffordshire deaths or newly-disclosed lapses in late-week aftercare.

And the keeping alive thing isn’t going so well: two years ago, the ASI’s No Need to Flinch presented data showing that the NHS is undistinguished by comparison to its peers. It is certainly free at the point of use, but that’s one of the problems: without pricing we have centralised rationing, priorities set by bureaucrats using clinical pretexts for essentially arbitrary decisions.

The NHS has become an ethical dump. Ordinary people are assumed to be unable to make their own decisions. They face policies which second-guess their choices, ration healthcare surreptitiously, allocate provision according to the state of public finances, and deprive patients of treatments in a public setting if they want to fund them directly.

As to economics, for as long as healthcare is unpriced, it is subject to infinite wants, especially as populations age and new technologies emerge for diagnosis, treatment and bodily modification. Prices would help patients make informed choices, as in the private sector.

Looking at practicalities, as ever in public supply the producers have captured the system, running it for their own purposes. Doctors, nurses, radiographers and pharmacists collaborate reluctantly in an ill-tempered armistice covered by paperwork in triplicate. Compare private healthcare, where professionals co-operate promptly. This is because customers with choices ensure that private healthcare competes to meet their needs. By contrast the NHS monopoly prevents customers going elsewhere; instead the Department of Health creates tick-lists, demoralising practitioners who game them. The NHS needs the discipline and coordinating force of the price system.