Mark Andrews: Time to rethink our public services?
Read today's column from Mark Andrews.
IF you are on an NHS waiting list for heart surgery, or if you even suffer from slightly high blood pressure, you might want to look away now. Carla Bellucci, a 37-year-old former glamour model, has been boasting about how she managed to get a £7,000 nose job free of charge on the NHS by feigning depression. “I went to my GP, flirted with him, and he told me exactly what to do,” she said. “The funny thing is, I’ve never had depression. They didn’t check a thing.”
Call me a curmudgeon, but I struggle to find that very funny at all. Her attitude also demeans those suffering from the very real and serious problem of depression. She added: “Some might think I’m milking the system, but that’s what it’s there for. I’m just clever enough to know how to do it.”
Given that she has now admitted obtaining the treatment under false pretences, I hope the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust – which has failed to meet its waiting-time targets for cancer treatments – attempts to recover the funds. But I won’t hold my breath. Serious questions also need to be asked about the conduct of the GP, if what she says is correct.
With an ageing population, the ever rising-cost of drugs and medical treatments, and an adult social care system which is clearly not capable of meeting demand, it is little surprise that the NHS is under more pressure than ever before. But this story surely demonstrates that there desperately needs to be a thorough review of what the health-care system is for. This week we have enjoyed the dubious pleasure of listening to numerous debates from the men who want to become the next leader of this country. But none of the candidates have summoned the courage to say that the NHS just can’t fund everything.
Today’s NHS is expected to perform functions never even envisaged at the time it was created in 1948. Cosmetic surgery, fertility treatments and countless other procedures were barely an issue back then, and there needs to be a serious grown-up debate about what we can afford to do. It won’t be popular, cuts to services never are. But something is very wrong when ex-glamour models wanting nose jobs results in patients waiting for cancer treatments.
IN A similar vein, within days of announcing that the BBC plans to scrap free licence fees for most over-75s, it also emerged that the corporation has also been broadcasting programmes which nobody watches. BBC Scotland, a new station launched in February at a cost of £32 million, has screened a total of 21 programmes which have, on some occasions, had no viewers whatsoever. One of them was a discussion show featuring a dominatrix, while four out of 19 editions of Tune, a music programme promoting local bands, were also viewer-less. The BBC said it was not unusual for some digital channels to have small audiences, pointing out that 14 of them were after 11pm when viewing figures tended to be low. Fair enough. But why waste money making them?
MEANWHILE, BBC director of policy (me neither) Clare Sumner tries to put a positive spin on the plan to restrict free TV licences to those claiming pension credits, saying it might make less well-off pensioners more likely to claim the benefits they are entitled to. I think the word is chutzpah.