Jeremy Hunt and the government appear to be on course for the world's first routine 7-day health service. Unfortunately, this pioneering endeavour is hindered by a marked gap in resources. Currently (as according to NHS Providers) 80% of acute hospitals in England are in financial deficit, compared to 5% three years ago. Missed waiting time targets have risen from 10% to 90% during the same period. In recent years, healthcare expenditure per capita for the United Kingdom has been stagnant in comparison with other developed countries:
On the path to establishing this revolutionary provision, a number of steps have been taken to ensure that the foundations are as flimsy as possible. Jeremy Hunt has pushed a junior doctor contract which undervalues them and discriminates against women. He has also removed bursaries for student nurses and allied health professionals. This has nurtured an atmosphere in which applications to work abroad have skyrocketed and the portension of mass exodus hinted at in recent years may well come to fruition. Following recent events, a significant (13.5%) reduction in medical school applications over the last twelve months is unlikely to help matters.
So the question arises, how does Mr Hunt seek to introduce this 7-day NHS with negligible funding and staffing levels? And, perhaps, the answer has been there all along...
Back in 2007, before landing the job of health secretary, Jeremy Hunt asked the Chief Medical Officer to review three homeopathic studies. He also signed an Early Day Motion supporting the provision of homeopathic medicines (including simple saline solutions diluted to negligible concentrations) which "welcomes the positive contribution made to the health of the nation by the NHS homeopathic hospitals", and "calls on the government to support these valuable national assets". In 2014, he again called for herbal remedies to be made available on the NHS.
When one of his constituents wrote a letter to Mr Hunt disagreeing with the evidence basis for such treatments, the Secretary of State for Health responded:
"I understand that it is your view that homeopathy is not effective, and therefore that people should not be encouraged to use it as a treatment. However, I am afraid that I have to disagree with you on this issue. I realise my answer will be a disappointing one for you"
Our Minister for Magic/Health's judgement on this matter may have been influenced by another Conservative MP, David Tredinnick. Indeed, Jeremy Hunt's request for the homeopathic studies to be reviewed was made at the behest of Mr Tredinnick, who has previously advised parliament that blood does not clot under a full moon, advocated the use of homeopathy as a treatment for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria and asked that homeopathic borax be used to control foot-and-mouth disease.
Are Mr Hunt and Mr Tredinnick on to something? The combination of drugs for treating TB vary between £5000 and £50-70000 depending on whether the variant is "normal" or "drug-resistant". Dilution to homeopathic doses can make these expensive drugs much less costly.
Even better, nature's finest Witch Hazel, which has been used for TB (albeit in the 19th century), comes in at a tidy £2.99 per bottle from your local chemist and can last for months if the degree of dilution is precise. It can even be grown on hospital grounds, generating further savings.
The workforce could also be rationalised in a homeopathic 7-day NHS. The impact of Jeremy Hunt's contract for junior doctors (indeed, the need for doctors in the first place) can be negated by alternative healthcare practitioners, some of whom might not even require an income. A new hospital druid role potentially offsets the vast increase in applications to Australia and New Zealand and reduction in medical school applications.
Mr Tredinnick is also a firm believer in astrology as a "useful diagnostic tool" which, alongside complementary medicine, could take "pressure off NHS doctors". As a Capricorn, the zodiac does indeed advise that his opinion should be reliable and trustworthy for Jeremy Hunt's Scorpio. Mr Tredinnick states "I do foresee that one day astrology will have a role to play in healthcare." Conceivably, that day may come sooner, and we will have alternative medicine permeating into our accident and emergency departments. This delightful sketch from comedy duo Mitchell and Webb might not be too far from the truth:
When the practical and economic feasibility of a routine 7-day NHS has been roundly debunked by senior doctors, service providers and analyists, it is only natural to ask how this is going to happen. Maybe, we ought to be thinking a little more naturally ourselves, and prepare for our complementary secretary of state for health to give us a very complementary 7-day routine NHS.