Should we be told how much our healthcare costs?
There NHS is running out of money. We are told this on an almost daily basis and unless you live in a cave, you’ll also know that GPs like me have been told that we are now going to be the people in charge of balancing the books. One of the reasons that GPs have been given this large responsibility is that we generally run our own surgeries fairly efficiently and it would appear that the coalition feel that this effective management can be extended to the entire NHS. The truth is I don’t really know much about accountancy. My surgery runs efficiently enough but only due to my heavy reliance on our practice manager. She steadfastly makes sure that there is enough money for everyone to get paid and that we get the best deal on our toilet roll order. I get on with trying to make the patients get better and as a business plan it works well enough.
I was against the bill, but am not totally against both doctors and patients actually knowing how much things cost. Each day I sit with a metaphorical book of blank cheques of tax payers money and I write up prescriptions, order tests and make hospital referrals. All of these have a price and therefore cost money to the NHS and hence all of us who pay tax. Up until recently I was blissfully ignorant as to how much these all cost, but as a result of GP commissioning I am now beginning to get an idea. Many doctors and patients are scared of thinking of health care in terms of money. The fear is that we medics will no longer see you all as real people in need of medical support, but instead as pricey leaches draining away our budgets. I would like to think I am capable of thinking about the financial value of what I do, without it having a detrimental affect on my clinical decisions.
If it was up to me, I would make up for the NHS short fall by scrapping the recommissioning of trident nuclear submarines. £20 billion would make the commissioning meetings easier to bare. With that sort if injection of cash, the improvements we could make to patient care would be staggering. Of course, the whole point of this health bill is to make do with less money rather than more and therefore the only places we’ll find any cash will be through our reductions of our own inefficiencies. Anyone who works within the NHS could list several ways in which we could work more efficiently. Traditionally, doctors have thought of these shortcomings in terms of wasted time for us and poor service for patients, but now we will be encouraged to think of them from a more financial perspective.
My first job after qualifying was as a junior surgical doctor and I had a particularly frightening consultant. His ward rounds were terrifying and when he demanded a patient’s blood results, I was expected to know them. If I didn’t have them to hand I was on the end of a bollocking that could be heard from the other side of the hospital. My response to this was to do blood tests on all my patients everyday to make sure that I had every possible result to hand. Not only were my poor patients often unnecessarily stabbed with a needle each morning, but I must have cost the NHS a small fortune. How much? I have no idea. Still to this day I don’t know the cost of a standard blood test, but I should shouldn’t I? I’m not suggesting that doctors shouldn’t order blood tests anymore, but clearly knowing the financial value along side the clinical value of what we do is important.
One of my patients got the shock to his life recently when he discovered the actual cost of the injections he is having for his rheumatoid arthritis. He has one per week and they cost £178.75 each. That’s twice his weekly rent. He wanted to know if he should add them to his house insurance as when he has 4 syringes of the stuff sitting in his fridge, they are more valuable than anything else he owns. Of course I don’t begrudge him these injections. I am extremely proud that the NHS provides them for him. They make a massive difference to his quality of life, but I’m glad he knows their financial value as it means that he treats them with the respect they deserve. He understands how precious each vial is and ensures that they don’t get dropped or accidentally thrown out with the mouldy leftovers when his fridge gets a clean.
The government are soon going to be sending us all a breakdown of exactly what our tax is spent on. Should we be sent something similar about how much we cost in terms of our health care? I don’t want anyone to be made to feel guilty about using the NHS, but how many of my patients who miss a hospital appointment, realise that each failed attendance costs around £120. Or that it costs £59.48 for the inhaler that keeps getting left on the bus and £244 for the ambulance needed to get to A&E after drinking to oblivion on a Saturday night. I don’t advocate anything other than a free health service at the point of delivery, but just knowing the financial value of what is provided is a good thing for patients and doctors alike, isn’t it?Tagged in: health, hospital, nhs
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