NHS needs further surgery

Sir Derek Wanless will today confirm what most of us already knew – that the Labour government is getting a rotten return on investment from the £43bn it has spent trying to produce a first-class health service.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Wanless, the man chosen personally by Gordon Brown to lead a review of NHS spending in 2002, has now written a new report for the King’s Fund charity. He argues that despite the unprecedented levels of extra funding, the NHS has failed to deliver even modest improvements in productivity. The disastrous implementation of the £20bn IT upgrade programme is partly to blame, while Wanless also believes that the controversial pay hikes received by GPs and consultants have failed to deliver any significant benefits.

Another big problem is that people are still getting fatter and leading unhealthier lifestyles. According to Wanless, 33% of men and 28% of women in the UK could be clinically obese by 2010 – up from 21% for both just two years ago. This is partly due to the widening gap between the health of the rich and the poor, he believes.

It wasn’t entirely bad news. Waiting times are down and people are living longer, while some progress has been made in the battle against smoking (which the recent smoking ban ought to encourage). But the general picture painted by Wanless is of spiralling costs, with no apparent improvement in quality of service.

The hope is that Wanless’s latest report might finally encourage the government to think again – pouring money in like there’s no tomorrow, with no discernible benefits, is just an incredibly expensive way to alienate public support for the NHS. Not exactly what Gordon Brown needs as he starts planning his election campaign.

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