How to Depoliticise Health

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By Danny Bowman, Director of Mental Health

This is the fifth of six blog posts looking at innovative ways in which we can reform and improve healthcare in the United Kingdom.

When we think of healthcare in the United Kingdom, it would be a surprise if every citizen didn’t immediately think of the three words that have defined our approach to health for 70 years; National Health Service.

The NHS has unquestionably been the best solution when it comes to managing our citizens health from ‘cradle to grave’, but we must not become dogmatic on healthcare.

Whilst acknowledging the importance of such a service, we need to look at new innovative solutions to the constant stress around healthcare.

In UK politics, healthcare has always been an important political football that is used by each party to attempt to win elections.

It seems every five years we hear the devoted rhetoric around the NHS from each political party as they compete to win the hearts and minds of the British people. Political parties promise lower waiting times, improved care and a better functioning health service – but, it seems to many, that giving politics such a big say in healthcare may not be working.

When a new government comes to power they outline their agenda for the NHS – mostly by undermining the work of the past government and attempting to change everything possible to turn the NHS into a more reflective organisation of the approach of their party.

It has become evident, that such picking and choosing, overhauling and undermining in such a short period of time is not just leaving staff in a constant bubble of confusion, but is arguably eroding the very foundations of the NHS. The very foundation of the NHS is good care, but with constant politicking, good care is being jeopardised through constant unnecessary changes.

Our system is far removed from the consensus politics of the Scandinavian countries which welcomes a wide range of views on an issue.

This is no more evident in Britain then in the politics of healthcare, where governments can take hold of the healthcare agenda over smaller parties.

The issue seems to be that the politicising of an issue like healthcare is unhelpful and creates confusion, bad-practice and even worse legislation. We have seen too many times MPs disagreeing on potentially positive health policy for the sake of political gain and in some cases, simply for the sake of disagreeing. This needs to change.

There have been many accusations of this including a tory minister being accused of filibustering to stop a new law to provide cheap and effective drugs on the NHS in 2015, arguably because his government didn’t support it, but all parties are guilty of this.

The only way it seems to enable the needed reforms in the NHS to see the light of day is by taking the control of healthcare funding and reform off politicians.

The depoliticisation of healthcare was attempted as part of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The centre piece of the legislation was the creation of clinical commissioning groups (CCG’s). But the legislation was flawed. Even though clinical commissioning groups could allocate the funding, the amount of funding CCG’s received was still decided by central government and central government still steered the NHS reform agenda.

I believe that the only way to decrease the partisan, pick up and rip up approach to healthcare policy is by creating a Royal Commission on Healthcare. The decision makers on healthcare policy would be appointed by the crown on the recommendation of the government.

This would mean that those making policy decisions about the NHS would not be politicians, but experts in the health arena.

This would enable cross party consensus, better health policy recommendations and legislation implementations. Most importantly, it would enable the needed, informed healthcare reforms to be passed to allow the sustainability of the NHS.

This would rely on a cross-party agreement on a Royal Commission, so it can’t be removed as happened in 1979 when a new government came to power.

For too long healthcare has been the political football, with policy being changed every time a new government comes to power causing confusion and endless amounts of frustration.

By creating a Royal Commission for healthcare in the UK, I believe we could pass the needed, informed reforms to allow the sustainability of the NHS.




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