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For millions, the NHS is the single most important institution in our country. It is the battleground upon which the last election was waged – and which David Cameron promised to preserve and protect with a vast infusion of our money.
Which is why today’s intervention from one of its most eminent custodians is so profoundly alarming.
Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, a hugely influential figure within Britain’s big teaching hospitals, argues passionately on this page just how close to crisis the NHS now teeters.
He talks of abject confusion at every level… a mass exodus of doctors… rock-bottom morale… and hospitals on the brink of bankruptcy.
Look at the current landscape: according to NHS England, by 2020 the service will need an extra £30 billion a year just to stand still. By comparison, the police cost us £12 billion.
Yes, the Tories are now pumping £116 billion into the NHS in England every year, up from £100 billion when they came to power in 2010.
But Sir Thomas convincingly argues this is simply not enough to guarantee the round-the-clock service that we have been promised: in just the three months between April and June, trusts overspent by a total of nearly £1 billion, more than their combined deficit for the whole of 2014. And it is not even winter yet.
Most people pay only limited attention to such mind-boggling figures. Quite understandably, they just want the service to work for them and their families, and are distressed when it fails to do so.
Sir Thomas argues that without radical new thinking there is a real danger that the NHS will effectively go bust.
He raises an unpalatable reality: if we are to have the health service we have been promised, patients may have to pay for the privilege – breaking the sacred bond between patients and an NHS free at the point of delivery.
Now the question is: when will we get an honest diagnosis?