The government have announced a review of their policy of denying NHS services to patients who top up their care with private treatment. The rule has meant that cancer patients wishing to pay privately for a more effective drug not offered by the NHS have ended up having to foot the bill for all their treatment.
In the past, the Department of Health has maintained that, "Co-payments would risk creating a two-tier health service and be in direct contravention with the principles and values of the NHS." In other words, the health service's Soviet-era ideology was regarded as more important than the health of its patients.
Obviously, that this sickening policy is under review is welcome. But I really wonder what there is to think about. As I've said in a previous blog, the prohibition of co-payments is immoral, incoherent and quite possible illegal.
It's immoral because the government have no right to deny people services they have already paid for (through the tax system) just because they want to pay privately for some additional services that are too expensive to be offered on the NHS. Who is the Health Secretary to tell people they can't have a potentially life-saving drug even if they're prepared to pay for it themselves?
It's incoherent because people are already allowed to pay extra for private rooms, televisions and other non-clinical benefits in NHS hospitals. Why shouldn't they be allowed to pay extra for newer medicines?
As for illegal – well, the NHS has a legal duty to provide 'reasonably required' care unless there is some legitimate reason not to do so. Limited resources are a legitimate reason, but if you are prepared to pay the extra money yourself, then it's hard to see what acceptable grounds the NHS could have for refusing to allow the treatment.
It is high time the government moved beyond thinking that 'fairness' means preventing anyone from accessing better care. And they shouldn't need a lengthy review process to tell them that.