Reform of the National Health Service is in serious danger of failing if it is continued to be led centrally, and control should be handed over to patients to remove the government’s hold over the purse strings, says a new report by think-tank Civitas.

The new report Why the NHS is the sick man of Europe, written by James Gubb, Director of the Health Unit at Civitas, points out that, despite record increases in funding over the last decade, with public spending on the NHS nearing £100 billion, the performance and productivity of the health service has been on a steady path downwards.

“The determination of the government to cling to the mantra that the centre knows best; to its right to direct resources; to dictate service provision; and, ultimately, to control the purse strings is ripping the heart out of the medical profession”, it claims, and warns that, if things continue as they are, the damage could be irreparable.

A big problem, it says, is that the focus of healthcare professionals is being taken away from the patient as an increasing amount of time is spent “trying to second-guess where the politicians will turn next, what their budgets will be next year, what the rules allow them to do - not to mention the inevitable targets, 'top-down pressures, diktat and bullying' that comes from the government and its enforcers in the Department of Health”.

In order to get reform back on track, the report advises the NHS to look towards Europe, and particularly the Netherlands, for better ways of providing universal healthcare, as many countries across the Channel seem to be delivering much higher standards of care.

“It is time for the NHS to be progressive; to put money in the hands of patients; and, above all, to empower health professionals to do their jobs,” Gubb stresses, and he concludes: “While the NHS frantically tries to provide universal health care through a centralised, monopolistic and heavily politicised system, the best European systems achieve this very same ideal from doing exactly the reverse, producing much better outcomes and more equity to boot”.

Poorer quality, higher cost?
Earlier this year, another think-tank Reform published a report claiming that the government’s revamp of the health service could end up delivering poorer quality at an extra cost of £20 billion a year.

While NHS Reform: national mantra, not local reality applauded the government’s ongoing commitment to health service reform, it claimed ministers are in denial about how much progress is really being achieved, particularly by flagship initiatives such as patient choice and independent commissioning.