Exactly how much the Treasury should provide the NHS is a political decision, based on the state of the UK economy, international comparatives, the coherence of NHS strategy and the competing demands for support. But there is wide agreement that exactly how those funds should be allocated should not be a political decision.
The cross-party convention proposed by Norman Lamb, or the Royal Commission proposed by Lord Saatchi, could help create this division of responsibilities. They should consider five major NHS structural changes to realise its potential:
NHS England is too big to manage. It needs to be split into six autonomous NHS Regions—run as independent public corporations like the Bank of England or BBC, not by a vast central Whitehall staff.
The limits of NHS provision—at present open-ended—must be identified. Only then can resources be focused on their most urgent uses.
Patient co-payments, common in almost every other healthcare system (and already current in NHS dentistry and prescriptions), needs to be extended, with care, to reduce marginal and unnecessary demand on NHS services.
Our ageing population means that the number of GPs and geriatricians must be increased, particularly geriatricians, whose numbers are outstripped by demand.
The 12% of the UK population with mental health issues need greater prioritisation and specialist resource.
The benefits of this clearer, more manageable strategy include:
Improved morale, recruitment and retention of a workforce that feels more valued and able to achieve identified aims, rather than having to deal with continual crisis.
Localised autonomy to innovate, reduce waste and learn from others.
Better balance of NHS resources with demand, which is outstripping supply because (a) they are free, (b) an older population needs more geriatrician care, (c) mental health needs more specialists and (d) a wealthier population demands more healthcare in general.
Improving the quality of healthcare and balancing the books by focusing money, personnel and equipment on their most cost-effective uses. More skills need to be pushed down the line: consultants to primary care, GPs to nurses and pharmacists.
Read the full paper here.