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Last Updated: Friday, 17 February 2006, 11:58 GMT
South: Health dilemma
Ian Paul
Ian Paul
Producer Politics Show
BBC South

NHS could be heading for a 620m deficit

When the NHS was founded, the expectation was costs would reduce year on year because we would be getting healthier and so would need fewer treatments.

Things have turned out slightly differently.

The NHS now costs 76.4bn annually and according to recent predictions if we keep up the same rate of increase in health spending, in 40 years' time it will account for half of all government spending.

And yet health spending is the classic example of what economists call the principle of non-satiety. We just cannot get enough of it.

No matter how much we spend on health care, there will always be some new and more expensive drug that will soak up yet more money.

The reason the early forecasters were wrong to think the costs would go down is that as we live longer there are more (and usually more expensive) illnesses to be treated.

Medical science keeps making staggering advances, and we now firmly believe that if something can be treated then it should be treated.

But can we afford to pay for all the treatments that could be made available?

That question has been well to the fore this week with the High Court ruling that Swindon Primary Care Trust's decision not to fund Herceptin for breast cancer sufferer Ann Marie Rogers was not unlawful.

It is an agonising dilemma - a year's course of Herceptin for one patient costs 21,184 according to manufacturers Roche.

The Department of Health estimates that using the drug could save 1000 lives a year at an annual cost of 100m.

There is no price on human life, is there? Every one of those thousand people deserves to live.

But with many NHS trusts heading for deficits this year (the total across the NHS is thought to be around a 1bn overspend) would you choose to spend so much to save so few?

Maybe a person's lifestyle should govern what treatment they get.

There have been suggestions recently that smokers, drinkers and the obese should all be denied treatments for conditions brought about by smoking, drinking or being overweight.

Is that fair, do you think? Should people have to suffer with illnesses they have "brought upon themselves"?

Maybe we should have an upper age limit for treatment? Spend the money on young people instead, since they will have more productive years in them?

Or maybe we should all just pay a lot more taxes so that the health service can do everything?

These are the dilemmas we will be posing to our MPs on Politics Show South. But what decisions do you think they should make?

Contact us and we will put your points to the politicians.

The Politics Show

Join Peter Henley live from the Wallingford Community Hospital in Oxfordshire on Sunday 26 February 2006 at 11.55am on BBC One.

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Politics from around the UK...

Tough targets to be set for NHS
25 Jan 06 |  Health
620m deficit predicted for NHS
01 Dec 05 |  Health
11 Sep 05 |  England


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