As the NHS turns 72, chances of reform are “remote”

Ahead of the NHS’s 72nd anniversary on Sunday, Christopher Snowdon, Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said:

“There is an assumption in Britain that all the NHS needs is more money; that a lack of funding is all that stands in the way of providing a perfect healthcare system.

“This theory will likely be put to the test. After months of applauding the institution, almost as though it’s a religion, the chances of reform are remote. I expect we’ll continue to pour more and more money in.

“In many ways the NHS performed well during this crisis. Few would complain about the performance of frontline staff – indeed I suspect it is those doctors and nurses the public had in mind when they stood clapping on the doorstep every Thursday.

“The Nightingale Hospitals were constructed in a very short space of time – though part of the reason the NHS was able to respond quickly in the early stages of the crisis was that it could bypass bureaucracy and red tape.

“Far from being the envy of the world the NHS is unique only insofar as it is so centralised and controlled by the state.

“Most developed countries have universal healthcare, with the US the exception.

“The NHS is now the fourth or fifth largest employer in the world, depending on how you measure it. It needs to stop being a state monopoly.

“Germany has a larger population than us. The German health system isn’t the fourth or fifth largest employer in the world.

“Most countries in Europe provide better – and universal – healthcare largely because they have more private sector involvement.

“We need to let individuals pick their own health insurance provider, thereby creating competition and improving service and standards between different providers. Those who cannot afford it will be supported by the state.

“We should be looking to the health systems in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland. The reason the NHS is so sclerotic is that it is simply too big.

“You cannot have meaningful reform in something so enormous. It needs to be broken up for the benefit of patients.”


For further IEA reading on the NHS:

Blog: The NHS blame game

Podcast: Universal healthcare without the NHS

Publication: Integrating health and social care

Blog: Why has no other European country followed the NHS model?

Blog: NHS workers should be wary of NHS populism