Another day brings more headlines about problems in the health service. Tomorrow, Jeremy Corbyn may even extricate himself temporarily from his self-inflicted chaos over immigration and ask about it at PMQs.
The issues are well-documented. Many junior doctors remain unhappy about the contract. Various hospital trusts are having financial difficulties. Some hospitals have left people in corridors for want of bed spaces. The troubles in social care leave many beds occupied by people who ought to be in care homes instead. A&E departments struggle to cope with apparently large numbers of visits from people who ought to see their GP instead. GPs’ surgeries seem to be better at seeing people on the same day on an ad hoc basis than in booking appointments in advance. And so on, and so on.
But pointing out problems doesn’t mean there’s a grand solution coming any time soon. As The Sun said this morning,
“The Left and its celebrity fans do love a Tory scapegoat. But what exactly is the Health Secretary supposed to do?”
You might think that the NHS simply needs more money (though at £116 billion and rising, you ought to consider whether cash really is the problem). But if so, you’ll be disappointed – there’s precious little spare money about. Only yesterday the Prime Minister’s major speech on mental health had to rest on £80 million of extra spending – hardly a sign of a Treasury with buckets of money sitting around.
Perhaps a grand bargain on social care would relieve the pressure? But again, with a small majority, limited money and no sign of agreement across the parties, we’ll have a long wait for one to materialise.
Or maybe we should undo the disastrous Blair/Brown GPs’ contract, which paid them more money in return for less work and saw a reduction in out of hours cover. I’d agree with you – but with the bulk of the Brexit battles still ahead, and the dust still settling after the junior doctors’ strikes, there’s no way Hunt is about to embark on any major surgery on part of the health service.
The options are limited, but so are the opportunities to act in any sizeable or meaningful way. It looks like the talk and the headlines will continue until warmer weather relieves the pressure.