It is an interesting time for anyone interested in British health policy. Although the Conservatives are right not to announce any detailed polices at the moment – in fear of Gordon Brown stealing, repackaging and selling them as his own – I nevertheless hope that if they are elected they are able bring to the fore an overall vision and strategy for health policy. It is vital that if they are elected they hit the ground running.
Although not aligned to any particular political party, NFR would like to take this opportunity to offer four key ideas:
- NFR represents a growing number of nurses who believe that all healthcare delivery should be returned to the independent sector. We recognise that at its best, this will include a diverse range of for- and not-for-profit providers. Politicians need to end their obsession with the idea of state provision and embrace the independent sector even if this means offering ownership of NHS hospitals and clinics to the people who work in them.
- For far too long politicians have allowed the General Medial Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council to be market monopolists. With too many political friends in the British Medical Council and the Royal College of Nursing these institutions should lose their monopoly status in law. Erecting endless road-blocks on the way to genuine consumer empowerment and choice, the next government should face down these middle class trade unions just as Margaret Thatcher dealt with the restrictive practices of the so called working class trade unions in the 1980s.
- Similarly, the next government must end health censorship. In today’s internet age it is absurd that advertising by doctors and pharmaceutical companies are still largely restricted or subject to outright bans. The next government must realise that better informed people will be able to make better decisions. While no one will ever have perfect information or knowledge, advertising and the building of powerful brands can nevertheless help to deliver necessary checks against producer-capture and the monopoly abuses of those with professional legislative favour.
- In opening up all health provision to the independent sector, actively de-monopolising the medical and healthcare professions, and ending healthcare censorship, British healthcare will be starting to go through the supply-side reforms that it so desperately needs. However, to complete the process, it is vital that the Treasury also complements these reforms with a private funding revolution. Any incoming administration should find ways of making it tax advantageous for people to offer and take out new forms of independent health funding. Trade union friendly societies, churches and charities must be fully empowered to offer new products. While the NHS will remain an important funder for years to come, it is vital that it is gradually replaced with more sustainable and consumer-focused forms of private resource.