David Cameron will pledge today to divert billions of pounds to healthcare in the most deprived parts of the country if he forms the next government.
This decision on health funding, I am told, is the first in a series of policy statements by the Conservatives aimed at countering claims that the party is intent on slashing core public services, and countering 'class war' claims that they are a party of the rich. So I can see why 'Dave' (as his spin-doctors prefer him to be called) wants to do this. I just think it will be an ineffective policy, and therefore a waste of our money – money that is pretty short right now, and could be used to better effect.
If health outcomes reflected the amount of money we spent in different areas, then the fittest, sprightliest, longest-living folk would be in the Calton area of Glasgow, and the sickest ones with the rottenest teeth would be in Wokingham. The fact is, of course that although residents of leafy Wokingham can expect to live comfortably longer than the national average (75 for men and 80 for women), a male in Calton cannot expect to see his 54th birthday. (That is 13 years shorter than Iraq, even after a decade of sanctions, and 16 years less than North Korea, likewise.)
In the Calton, a quarter of the population say their health is not good and over half smoke. Two-fifths are on incapacity benefit. Calton residents suffer from their drink, drugs, and poor diet. Alcohol abuse is far above the national average. Heart disease, diabetes, and hospital admissions with drug overdoses are high.
Would more money from the NHS change that? Not a chance. Of course, Dave's health supremo, Andrew Landsley, says that he is going to turn the NHS from a sickness service to a health service, concentrating more on prevention rather than cure. He would still have his work cut out to make an impact on statistics like these. No, Calton residents are already the victms of too much government spending – poor-quality public-sector housing, a social benefit system that encourages family break-up and makes it almost impossible for people to get back into work, and a state school system that leaves inner-city kids underqualified and devoid of any hope of improving themselves. Yet more of the same will not help. We need to think much more radically if we are to change ill-health – and the causes of ill-health.
Dr Butler's new book The Alternative Manifesto is published soon. Click here to find out more.