The theme was an authentic Viking feast in a long hall, so they were all dressed as Vikings, eating roast ox and getting drunk on mead. We were hours out ofReykjavík. Night was creeping in and the temperature was dropping, so you couldn’t leave the hall without blistering from the cold.
‘Our European neighbours were not restricted by our historic commitment to services being free at the point of delivery’
It was the final night of a three-day health and social care conference sponsored by a Russian telecoms company, hosted by a US private heath insurance firm, with conference speakers from Scandinavia and delegates from across Europe.
The conference language was English, the agenda the challenge of an ageing population (officially), the opportunities of privatisation (unofficially). NHS trusts were well represented, as were the men in grey suits from the Department of Health (all wearing horned helmets, including a drunk guy telling everyone that this stereotype was historically inaccurate).
We learned that the Scandinavian model was not as generous as we had assumed, that the German healthcare system was efficient, the French system expensive and rather inconveniently that a recent study had shown the NHS to be good vale for money and the US private healthcare system the worst value for money.
‘People living longer, new cures and more effective treatments – these are good things’
Our European neighbours were not restricted by our historic commitment to services being free at the point of delivery, so they imposed charges that the patient then claimed back if they were eligible. The French charge for a visit to a GP that some in our party thought would discourage unnecessary visits until they realised how much paper work was generated.
Encouraged by the Scandinavian contingent and much to the frustration of our US hosts, we concluded that the NHS is a ravenous animal with an insatiable appetite. This is not just because of an ageing population or developments in expensive treatments. It is also because of rising expectations.
People living longer, new cures and more effective treatments – these are good things. As a result we naturally expect to live longer and enjoy better health than our grandparents’ generation. Most of us are prepared to pay more for the peace of mind that should we become ill we will get the best treatment. Most of us realise that this means higher taxes or a greater share of taxation going on the NHS. All we need to do now is persuade the politicians.