The pressures on our NHS have been front and centre in recent days. But amidst the national coverage I wanted to celebrate one local statistic which, surprisingly perhaps, has received little if any media attention.
In the run-up to Christmas, our local NHS trust has had some striking success, including delivery of the 95% A&E target for three weeks running. That’s the first time in several years, and is a markedly stronger performance than in most neighbouring English trusts. It’s also hugely better than the situation in Wales. It’s a promising turnaround and I’m grateful to all those whose hard work made it happen and who continue to serve with such extraordinary dedication.
It was good too to see Cheltenham NHS staff being praised by Made in Chelsea star Jamie Lang to his one million social media followers. Jamie spent Christmas Eve in Cheltenham General Hospital.
Turning to the national position, I believe these latest pressures support my argument for looking carefully at a so-called ‘hypothecated’ (i.e. dedicated) tax to fund the NHS and social care. At present the service is funded from general taxation. As a result there is no real way in which the public can express its wish for greater (or indeed lesser) funding. We currently spend more as a percentage of national income than the OECD average, but I believe we need to look at going further. I sense the British people do too.
The cardinal principle in my view should be that the NHS remains free at the point of need and regardless of ability to pay. Preserving that makes it all the more important that a Royal Commission be established to look at the hypothecation issue. Such a Commission would be both cross-party and independent. It would then look at the funding mechanism without any political agenda.
It may be a forlorn hope, but I think taking the political heat out of health funding is worth a try.