Contrary to popular belief, British politicians quite often speak the blunt truths that are hard for people to hear. The only problem is, they tend to defer doing so until they are in the House of Lords, safe from being sacked at elections for by voters enraged by whatever inconvenient truth they may have uttered.
In that fine tradition, it’s well worth reading Norman Fowler in the Daily Telegraph, writing about the NHS:
‘…we need an independent review with authority and clout to examine this whole area anew. A Royal Commission would most nearly fit that bill. It would inform the public in a way that no think tank can do and also have the capacity to transform the national conversation about the NHS. The essential task would be to address the financing question and to examine whether there are any new or additional ways in which resources can be gathered. No one should be deprived of health care because of a lack of resources. That, I believe, is common ground between all the parties – in spite of some of the self-serving rhetoric of Labour politicians. But nowhere is it written that the health service should be isolated from new ideas.’
Few questions are more sensitive than that of the health service. The fury of those who have spent decades believing the NHS is at any given moment being destroyed never seems to abate, even though such allegations always turn out to be bogus. It’s easy to see why MPs are always wary of raising even practical questions like how will we afford the rising costs of caring for an ageing population, lest they are chased out of town by a mob.
Fowler’s proposal – that a Royal Commission should be appointed to study such questions in detail – is the most feasible approach to opening these long-overdue discussions. No doubt some would take it as another opportunity to accuse the Government of flogging the whole thing off, but such accusations from people who make them anyway would be an acceptable political price to pay for the opportunity to take a proper, long-term look at the nation’s healthcare.
In effect, the idea would be a subset of Paul Goodman’s proposal for an affordability commission, whose job would be to investigate the long-term fiscal sustainability of the British state. After all, the NHS is just one arm of the state facing such issues – others which would benefit from close scrutiny include pensions, transport infrastructure, PFI and energy. Better to work out a plan now than to have to do it years down the line once a true crisis had begun.