Operations could be put on hold as rationing spreads within NHS

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Rationing is something we don’t see much of these days.

I’m just about old enough to remember it as a young child after the war and somewhere in my collection of antiquities is a ration book from that time.

My mother never wanted to throw it out. About the only thing I remember being rationed in more recent years was water during a drought. No chance of that today as the heavens seem to open on a daily basis.

Yet a form of rationing is likely to be on the way again, this time for those needing hospital operations such as hip replacements or cataract surgery.

Already one NHS group, St Helens Clinical Commissioning group in Merseyside has become the first in the country to refuse all non-emergency procedures to try to balance its books.

Senior orthopaedic surgeon Stephen Cannon, vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons has warned this week of the “rationing’’ spreading across the NHS. He fears that without major changes to the funding of the health service bans on all but the most urgent treatments would become “commonplace’’.

He says rationing such as this could cripple patients. Delays of this sort, he says, could lead to patients having to have more complicated surgery in future as their condition worsens.

Outlining his fears in a letter to the Daily Telegraph Mr Cannon also wants changes to the way existing funds are spent, to divert more money away from bureaucracy towards front-line care. He describes the problem of rationing as a ‘‘growing one’’.

The NHS today receives £113.300bn in funding, a figure set to rise by another £3bn in the next year.

When the service first began in 1948 its budget was set at £437m, approximately the equivalent of £15bn in today’s money. Yet the service today is in crisis as anyone who has had to visit A&E in recent times will verify.

I know of people waiting for major surgery with no date promised. The hospital consultant I saw in the early spring this year can’t see me again until next spring at the earliest. The fear is that it is older people who will go to the back of the queue since they are the ones needing the hip and knee replacements, the cataracts removed, the mysterious lumps investigated and the heart irregularities treated. Young drunks and those felled by drug overdoses appear to get priority treatment in A&E departments while the genuinely ill are left waiting for hours to see a doctor.

Maybe not enough public money is going to run the NHS, perhaps too much is squandered on the unreasonable pay demands of its heavily unionised workers. It’s quite possible too we simply can’t afford the NHS as it is presently constituted given that no other country in the EU has a similar behemoth. If we were asked to pay another two per cent in our income tax to help the NHS budget I can imagine the furore that would cause. It would be nothing of course to the ructions it would generate if the government decided to end the concept of a free health service and leave us to pay our own way. Those wanting a united Ireland conveniently forget to tell those in the north how much they would have to pay for medical treatment in the south. Our government, of course tends to shoot itself in the foot when it says the NHS is costing too much. It was revealed this week that MPs spent more than half a million pounds in a year on ‘fact-finding’’ missions at home and abroad. In that was a trip to two greyhound tracks. It begs the question – who are the real money wasters in this country?