NHS may be forced to abandon free healthcare, Britain’s top doctor says
Prof Sir Bruce Keogh said there needed to be less reliance on hospitals in order to preserve free healthcare, but denied suggestions of a crisis
Britain’s most senior doctor has said the under-pressure NHS may be forced to abandon the concept of free healthcare for all.
Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS in England, said there were doubts over whether the taxpayer-funded model was “sustainable in the longer term”.
He added that huge changes were needed – including less reliance on hospitals – if free treatment was to be preserved.
He told the Guardian: “If the NHS continues to function as it does now, it’s going to really struggle to cope because the model of delivery and service that we have at the moment is not fit for the future.”
More resources and care need to be diverted into GP surgeries if the NHS is to withstand increased demand and tightening budgets, he added.
He said: “If not, we will get to a place where the NHS becomes unaffordable and we will have to make some very difficult decisions which will get to the very heart of the principle of the NHS and its values.
“This will open up a whole series of discussions about whether the NHS is fit for purpose, whether it’s affordable, and whether the compact with the citizen of free healthcare for all is sustainable in the longer term.”
However he denied that key NHS services are in crisis, despite accident and emergency waiting times being at their worst since records began a decade ago.
He said: “Everybody that’s working out there in the NHS knows that they’re under a lot of pressure at the moment. They don’t like the term ‘crisis’ being applied willy-nilly.
“It’s an evocative term which is also provocative and is used too freely for the wrong reasons. It’s a period of unprecedented pressure, of undue pressure. But the NHS is facing very difficult times, yes. The word ‘crisis’ implies that you can’t deal with it.”