LONDON- A new controversial reform of the country's National Health Service, or NHS, is being spearheaded by the recently established Coalition government, led by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The reforms, which are being hailed as unwanted by many in the medical field, would transfer £80bn (roughly $129.2bn) budget for patient care to general practitioners.
Despite the controversy, the Prime Minister has regarded the reform as absolutely necessary to the improvement of health care in the UK. He has said that without the reform, the health care system will continue to fall behind that of many European countries. "We are more likely to die of cancer or heart disease [than the rest of Europe]," said Cameron, "We shouldn't be aiming for second best."
Many within the current NHS system, however, are voicing their disapproval of the new reforms. Cameron has even admitted that his brother-in-law, who is a member of the NHS system, has said he also disapproves.
Dr. Peter Carter, the Chief Executive & General secretary of the Royal College of Nurses said, "The NHS is about to go through a very shaky transition period as a result of a far-reaching reform programme. Coupled with the drive to make efficiency savings we are concerned at the NHS' ability to cope, especially as staff are clearly under so much pressure."
Dr. Carter noted that in a survey done among nurses of the RCN, most believed they did not have the adequate staff to care for patients properly. He said, "What we are hearing is that there are fewer staff doing more work, and nurses themselves are saying it could have a damaging effect on patient care. The health service is facing unprecedented change, uncertainty and economic changes."
The BBC reports also that staffing cuts will continue and that "more than 20,000 health service staff will lose their jobs following the abolition of 151 primary care trusts." With much of the NHS budget in the hands of local general practitioners, the choice of services from providers in the public, private, and charity sectors will no longer be managed by government representatives.
Ryan Timpe, a 23-year-old economic consultant from the United States, said that perhaps smaller staffs are a good thing. Timpe said that the "UK's NHS is oft tied to long waits. While annoying, they deter people from getting care they don't really need." However, those who will be affected by the reforms here in the UK do not seem to share Timpe's opinion.
Charles Stedman, a security staff member for Boston University's London campus, also voiced his disapproval at the reform.
He said that having "finances in the hands of local doctors wouldn't be practical. They are doctors, not finance workers. They'll be so focused on dealing with the millions of pounds that the government is giving them that they are not going to care for their patients."
Cameron has insisted that change is necessary if the NHS is to be kept in place. He said, "If you look at the growth of the elderly population, look at the new drugs that are coming on stream, the new treatments, if we keep the system we have now and don't make changes to cut bureaucracy and waste, I think it will become increasingly unaffordable."
Linda Bartholomew, a housekeeping staff member for Boston University's London campus and Stedman's co-worker, said that she doesn't mind the reform, "as long as we have our doctor, then we're okay." She said, however, that there is room for improvement within the NHS and that developments within major diseases, such as Alzheimer's and cancer, are crucial.
While these improvements are said to be on the top of the Coalition's to do list, some are questioning whether reforms are happening too fast. Cameron has addressed these concerns by saying that the government has already waited too long to reform the health service and that to wait any longer would prove disastrous in the future.
He said, "these reforms aren't about theory or ideology- they are about people's lives. Your lives, the lives of the people you and I care most about: our children, our families and our friends. So I have to say to people: if not now, then when?"
Stedman said he sees this urgent desire by the government to reform the NHS as a way of keeping the many promises they have during the general elections back in May. He said that "cutting back like they are, even with the NHS, the government won't get much done."
The Coalition government, which is a first of its kind in UK history, is struggling to prove that it can work together to institute reform and govern productively. It has the next four years to prove that is is capable of, not only, keeping its promises but also improving the battered economy if it wishes to win the next general elections.
This government is not only working to institute reform within the NHS, but regulate a deficit budget left by the opposing Labour Party government. This has proven to be difficult as it tries to present a united front on different issues, especially the proposed reform of the NHS. Various members of both parties, particularly those of the Liberal Democrats have said they do not support the reform.
Bartholomew said that with or without the reform, she wanted to make sure that the NHS continued to exists. Unlike the United States, where patients must work with insurance companies to pay for their health coverage, she said that the NHS is a fundamental part of life in the UK. Whatever the results of this reform, all Britons will be affected in their health coverage.
"I think that [without the] NHS here in the UK, we would be like the U.S. paying for everything," Bartholomew said, "To me, that's what's important. You wouldn't bother going if you had to pay for everything."