NHS: Astonishingly Profligate


Here we go again. Another year, another crisis in the NHS. This time the ante has been well and truly upped by none less than the British Red Cross (BRC), which, coincidentally has a brand-new Director of Media. Former Digital Editor at (believe it or not) The Guardian, Polly Curtis has certainly hit the ground running. In a statement released on Friday, BRC Chief Executive Mike Adamson referred to a ‘humanitarian crisis’ across the service.

Well jolly old Jeremy was terribly cross. He appeared on several news programmes to berate the Government and to demand, with all the beardy outrage he could muster, that the Prime Minister should make a statement in Parliament about the plan to stop this “unprecedented” crisis.

At this juncture, it would be all too easy to ask some awkward questions. Perhaps about the wild expansion of PFI contracts and their attendant financial millstones. Maybe too, while we’re on the subject of unprecedented NHS crises, a certain scandal in the English Midlands bears a mention that involved vases and thirst for water.

But I’m not going to do that for two reasons. Firstly, Corbyn already gets enough of a kicking around these parts. It isn’t really that much fun anymore. It’s long past time that he got out of the way and let the Labour Party form a decent opposition. One that does more than attending rallies and wearing right-on t-shirts and badges.

The second reason is rather more important. The phrase ‘Humanitarian Crisis’ is ridiculously overblown in this context, bringing to mind images of wretched, starving children in war-torn hellholes or C130s dropping pallet-loads of food to the victims of some terrible natural disaster. There can, however, be no doubt that the NHS is in trouble. And the answer has to start with removing politics from it completely.

Keen-eyed readers may have noted that I’ve already wandered rather off-message by refusing to use the de rigueur nomenclature, ‘Our NHS’ (or, for those who like to comment angrily on idiotic Facebook memes, ‘are nhs’). The frankly silly adoption of Newspeak terminology won’t actually solve anything at all.

No, what everyone knows though few seem prepared to accept, is that the NHS needs to have a good, long look at how it spends its vast and ever-growing resources. The NHS is astonishingly profligate; there are all manner of ways in which savings could be made. But as I’m writing this on Sunday and I’m feeling lazy, let’s take a potshot at an easy target – recruitment.

Want to be an Assistant Director of Corporate Services? Bexley Clinical Commissioning Group are currently offering between £71-£86000 for the role. How about a Communications Manager in Oxford? £31-£41000. Fancy yourself as the Assistant Director of Equality and Diversity in Manchester? How does £46-£57000 sound? Not one of these handsomely rewarded roles has anything to do with providing care, and there are many, many more where these came from.

However, as I said, that’s an easy target. Are there any other ways the NHS could tighten up? How about failures in process? Consider this by way of example:

Some time ago an individual – let’s call them ‘Person M’ – attended a hospital appointment with an elderly relative who has memory problems and associated difficulties with communication. The patient was treated and during the examination the doctor discovered an unrelated condition which required further investigation. So far, so good; the smoothly-oiled wheels of the system turning with practised efficiency?

Not exactly. Person M was advised that another consultation was required. This would take place in the same department of the same hospital and possibly even under the same consultant. No problem, said Person M, let’s arrange it now. But that was not to be. Consultations must be booked by the patient’s GP. Person M raised a quizzical eyebrow, but before a word was spoken the doctor uttered the answer, that much-used panacea so often produced to heal the ills of the service: “It’s because of the way the NHS is structured.”

There isn’t really much required in the way of further comment here. Person M and relative attended a wholly unnecessary appointment at which a GP’s valuable time was taken up by a simple administrative task. Those who bleat endlessly on about ‘Government cuts’, unable to justify this waste, will dismiss it as ‘anecdotal evidence’ or blame the Daily Mail.

But this story didn’t come from the tabloids, and an uncomfortable thing about anecdotes is that they’re very often true. As I absolutely know this story to be. Because I know exactly when and where it happened…

Because Person M was me.

Matthew Corrigan is a Country Squire Guest Writer and a superb author whose excellent novel OSPREY shines a satirical light on a dodgy politician with a flying wind turbine scam. His books can be found here

3 thoughts on “NHS: Astonishingly Profligate

  1. Excellent piece, Matthew.

    Alas, as long as we have a health system that is free at the point of use, rather than one of the more sensible insurance-based ones like they have in many (dare I say!) EU countries and indeed in other parts of the world, we shall always have the problem of “insufficient funding”.

    Imagine if, instead of supermarkets, the UK had “Our NFS” (National Food Service), with all food “free”, funded by taxation. I can guarantee that there would always be a “food shortage”, endless queues, all kinds of bureaucrats hired to find ways in which these queues could be “managed” and to establish who was most in “need” of certain foodstuffs … and constant demands for “more funding”. Sound at all familiar?

  2. I work in the NHS and I back up your comments Matt. There is a lack of business nous among the NHS higher echelons. As a consequence we have companies pitching for contracts and not being negotiated down much. The recruitment fiasco has been boiling for years. Too many staff in the NHS. Who needs equality officers?

  3. Totally understand the frustration you endured regarding hospital re-referral by GP. The hospital was “protecting” it’s funds and by sending you back to GP ensured it could claim costs of next consultation as they would have charged the GP Surgery for this.

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