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The Health Reforms: Proving Rather Unhealthy for the Government

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"Doesn't it also demonstrate that however well you may be on top of your brief, you are a hopeless communicator?" This was question posed to the health secretary by Jeremy Paxman during an interview and one senses this is indicative of the thoughts of many politicians. The reform bill has undergone more than 200 hours of scrutiny and over 1000 amendments have been made however, the media and public pandemonium regarding the bill continues. Confusion and stereotypical views of the Conservatives fuel the debate and the only certainty is that the opposition to the health reforms isn't going to halt anytime soon.

Why the fuss?

Since the birth of the NHS in 1948, the NHS has been symbolic of the nation's core values of care and equality regardless of social position. The formation can be largely attributed to the Second World War which highlighted the need for a national healthcare system. The system is one of few around the world and is revered by many as being a constant source of aid in tough and uncertain times. One can almost argue that the nation has an emotional attachment to the system, the concept more than anything. The execution on the other hand has been frequently criticised in recent years. An increasing population as well ageing population has led to increased pressure upon the NHS. Although investment into the NHS has been increasing, it has been unable to keep up with the pressure being exerted on the services. Now in times of austerity, the old system has been deemed unsustainable and upon entering government, the coalition proposed a major reorganisation of the system in order to increase its sustainability as well increasing the quality of the services.

What do the healthcare reforms propose?

The government wishes to simplify the management system and make it more effective by reducing bureaucracy. Crucially, the coalition proposes to increase the efficiency of the system so as to maximise the effectiveness of investment. Changes include more power being given to local GP's as they care considered to be in a better position to direct funding as they are on the 'frontline' of the system. Another crucial element of the reforms is competition. The idea is that private firms manage hospitals. The hospital would still be regulated by the government and the services would still be free but the objective behind the concept is that private firms will be more effective in managing a hospital in terms of controlling costs and being efficient as they will run the hospital like a business. Private firms can compete for contracts and the idea is private firms will strive to improve conditions in their hospitals to gain more contracts and this element of competition as a whole will improve services.

Why the opposition?

They say the past comes back to haunt us and this is particularly applicable in politics. A stereotypical view of the Conservatives is a party who are opposed to a big state and wish to private national services such as the health services. Critics commonly refer back to the days of Thatcher when living standards fell. This 'new' Conservative party had hoped to avoid these references however Britain's underlying love for satire (yes, it is still there) has meant that themes of privatisation have come back to irritate the coalition.

The liberal democrats claim to have put their mark on it and claim to have made many amendments although the significance of their actions continues to the questioned by the media. Crucially, it is the actions of various health bodies which have led to questioning over the impact of the reforms. The Royal College of GP's, British Medical Association and Faculty of Public health are amongst the bodies that are against the bill. This has intensified by already vicious debate between Labour and the coalition over the outcome of the reforms.

What next?

It has been over a year since this bill has been proposed but very little progress seems to have been and considering the recent events, the prospect of major development looks bleak. These reforms will affect you and me and the NHS is undoubtedly an integral part of British society. One cannot dismiss the major problems with the system however the problems need to be addressed. The NHS employs 1.7 million people, has a budget of around £106 billion a year and treats around 3 million in the NHS in England every week! Its importance cannot be question and neither can the scale of the reforms. The question remains: will these reforms be successful and more importantly, enough?