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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 19:55 GMT 20:55 UK
Whose prescription will save the NHS?

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy says the NHS has "not only been let down by Labour, but abandoned by the Conservatives" and blames the current crisis on low spending.

He says the Liberal Democrats are the only party who will really change the service, and promises a pay increase of £1,000 for nurses, and to recruit 4,600 new doctors, and 27,500 nurses.

Labour plan a "University of the NHS" which could lead to nurses becoming doctors, or cleaners becoming healthcare assistants. They have pledged 20,000 more nurses (7,500 fewer than the Liberal Democrats) and 10,000 more doctors.

The Conservatives say it is not simply about recruitment targets, but rather how health care professionals are employed and retained. They promise to match Labour spending.

Are the Liberal Democrats really the only party who can give the NHS the shot in the arm it needs? Or are the existing resources not being used efficiently enough?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction


There has been a very definite manipulation of waiting lists in our local hospital.Quote Here

Dr C S Bull, Boston, Lincs
There has been a very definite manipulation of waiting lists in our local hospital. When a patient attends outpatients, he or she is given a piece of paper with a predicted date for surgery written on it (which of course is months in the future and completely fictitious). But, because the patient has now been given a date for his operation, however far in the future that date is, he is no longer "on a waiting list".
Dr C S Bull, Boston, Lincs


This is a complicated problem and probably doesn't have a simple answer with a pound sign

David Price, Reading, UK
The NHS will never be perfect and demand will probably exceed capacity. My impression is that front-line staff in all areas are dedicated but over-worked and underpaid, but there are inefficiencies and obstructive government-imposed policies and procedures throughout. I would never vote for a party who says the answer is to simply throw money at the problem and promise more staff, who presumably will still be underpaid and overworked. This is a complicated problem and probably doesn't have a simple answer with a pound sign. I want to see a government that tries to understand the root problems and is honest about how to solve it.
David Price, Reading, UK

As a percentage of GDP, our health service is relatively cheap to run compared to the EU average and the totally private system in the USA - and it covers everybody. It's a bit like the old British Rail syndrome - nobody realised how well they ran the system with limited funds until Railtrack came along. There are many people who don't want the NHS to work for the simple reason that it's successful socialism in action. All this talk of inefficiency and red tape is something of a red herring because all organisations, private or public, suffer from the same thing. The difference is that private companies' red tape and inefficiency rarely come to light if they're making enough money, but the NHS is always in the spotlight. It must remain free at the point of use, no matter how the services are actually provided, and there is no way the Tories can achieve that together with their other ambitions.
Steve, UK

The best prescription for the NHS? Hand it over lock stock and bedpan to BUPA to run. And let us opt-out of national insurance to go with private insurers. The current NI scheme is a scam - any private business that tried to operate like that would get shut down for fraud. Private is the only way to go.
David Moran, Scotland/Australia

Recruitment in both the NHS and state education is not helped by the perception that there is a 2-tier system - one for the rich and one "bog standard" one for the rest of us. Private health and education should be unnecessary because state health and education should be outstandingly good. This is the case in most of Europe. Perceptions that the NHS and comprehensive schools are "bog standard" is the biggest enemy to recruitment. The government is wasting its money on advertising whilst it encourages the stigmatising of these institutions. I sometimes think their advertising is for their own self-consumption. I certainly don't understand what they are up to.
George, London, England


If wasting money was an Olympic event the NHS would take Gold, Silver and Bronze

Martin, England
If wasting money was an Olympic event the NHS would take Gold, Silver and Bronze every time. Instead of making this incompetently run giant even larger we should work at reducing demand. Start by taxing people based on how much their BMI varies from ideal. That would reduce the demand from obese people. Tax fags out of existence, that's a massive reduction in cancer patients. Obviously fat smokers wouldn't like this but so what, it'll be their taxes not mine paying for it all.
Martin, England

I've just read about the "massaging" of waiting lists. I can tell you that back when the Tories were destroying the NHS massaging was rife then. Of the numerous examples the killer was when my local hospital would [finally] send out an appointment and in the same envelope include a letter cancelling said appointment.
Richard, Maidstone, Kent, UK

The whole philosophy of providing "free" medical care needs to be reviewed root and branch and, with cross political party agreement, a complete restructuring of the whole organisation undertaken. Huge changes have occurred in this country since the NHS was set up in terms of demography, technology, personal finances and employment and these all need to be included in a plan for changing the NHS.
Sandy McCowan, Edinburgh


The NHS should be free at the point of delivery - but lets not get hung up on how it is delivered

Allan Rankine, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, UK
Whoever is elected should tender private health care companies to provide x-ray, scanning, diagnostic and laboratory service centres in key populated areas of the UK to be run as a purely commercial operation on a contract basis with local hospitals and GPs. These services and the equipment used are very expensive for hospital trusts to manage, run and maintain. Removing these responsibilities would allow more focus on front line patient care. The NHS should be free at the point of delivery - but lets not get hung up on how it is delivered.
Allan Rankine, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, UK

I am Austrian, but have been living in London for two years now. I can only compare our health systems, and I think it is a very humane and idealistic idea of providing health service to everybody. But if this turns the service to a generally bad service for everybody, it is no good for anyone. I'm very sure it is not very easy to repair the NHS, but if we consider a lot more than just pumping money in, it should be possible.
Nicole, London

The NHS needs the investment to go in, but instead of every year change after change, reform after reform being imposed on an increasingly government controlled system, it should be left alone, with the red tape cut. It would then start to sort itself out. If government stopped increasing red tape and stopped piling up the pressure upon staff, and instead put the money in, let the hospitals decide how they want to spend the money and got out of the road you would see a much more efficient system emerge over time.
Phillip Porteous, Cumbria


Management training offered to nurses is too little too late

Jonathan Downham, Birmingham UK
There are some nurses out there who think that they should be allowed to manage their services without being tarred with the apparently dirty brush of being 'the management'. It would seem however that the management training offered to nurses is too little too late. Train us properly in the necessary skills and we will be successful in running the services.
Jonathan Downham, Birmingham UK

All these familiar sounding comments help me feel like I'm right back at work here in the USA!
C, USA

On a TV programme, William Hague was asked how many new nurses and doctors would be employed if they got into power. His answer was that he would not give any figures, but would say he would sort it out. A later question prompted him to say that he was going to encourage more people to go "private", making it easier for the NHS to cope with current demands. This seems to me that no new nurses and doctors are to be introduced by the Conservatives. Another fine mess, Mr. Hague.
Jim Cantrell, Chesterfield, UK


You can't get additional doctors and nurses out of nowhere

Malcolm McMahon, York
Obviously, however much money the next government throws at the job you can't get additional doctors and nurses out of nowhere. A partial answer might be to spend more of the extra money on technology to make the job easier and quicker. I suspect there are a lot of jobs currently being done by doctors that could as easily be done by machines.
Malcolm McMahon, York, UK

I have been in the nursing profession for 11 years now and my advice to any student is this: don't start nursing just for a qualification, it's not what it is about. You train because you want to nurse, not for any other reason. The pay is terrible, the morale low, the violence is getting worse and the managers getting richer while no-one pays any attention to those of us at ground level. I wish I was a politician because I have a fair idea how I would fix the situation with regard to the lack of nurses!
Gillian , Glasgow, Scotland

My wife is a midwife, I write computer games. If I mess up at work it costs my firm some money; if she messes up someone potentially dies. I get paid more than three times as much as her. I wonder why people don't stay in the health service.
Craig Tanswell, Epsom,UK


Would the last nurse to leave the profession please turn out Florence's lamp

Eleanor Peck, Bedfordshire UK
I started my training in 1986 and have been qualified since 1989. I still earn little more than a newly qualified recruit from Hendon. I am tired of earning so little and working so hard. All nurses have to do constant updating and indeed I have just done my return to practice in midwifery which was 150 hours for which I didn't receive a penny. I am also tired of working shifts: in 15 years I have never earned more than time and 60%, even on Christmas Day and the Millennium. I love my job but I'm tired of being taken for a ride. When is the British public going to make me feel like that they value me and my skills? When are the politicians going to listen? And would the last nurse to leave the profession please turn out Florence's lamp.
Eleanor Peck, Bedfordshire UK

A couple of the comments here hit the nail on the head: time to re-think the whole concept of a state run health system. The US model is a national disgrace (in comparison, the NHS is a model of perfection), but it has one key element that is key ... it's privately run. I'd rather a see a mandatory 5% tax on all personal income so that everyone can buy the private insurance plan of their choice at a flat rate.
Mark M. Newdick, USA

I feel we do not need more doctors and nurses but a reduction in patient numbers would be most beneficial. (Remember Logan's Run!!!)
Steve G, Manchester

In our town vital services are being downgraded and taken away to a hospital about 40 miles away. I think people should be entitled to healthcare. People want their health care to be local and I don't drive so it takes about an hour and a half to get there. It also it makes the waiting lists go up because you have a bigger influx of people waiting. Is this what I pay my taxes for. I think politicians are full of empty promises. There is too much playground antics in politics today I think.
Marc Austin, Horsham England


Nobody in any civilised country in the world would question the need for a public health system

Anders Dybwad, Tromsų, Norway
All Scandinavian countries have state-run hospitals and free health care. While the system may not be perfect I believe, and most statistics show, that we have the best health care in the world. The trouble with the NHS is that it was doomed from the very start by virtue of being a British institution. Consider the resistance by ordinary GP's to the NHS in the 1950's. The nub of the problem is the British class system - this infernal division of "us and them". Nobody in any civilised country in the world (expect perhaps the US which isn't exactly civilized) would question the need for a public health system, which benefits the rich and poor alike. After all what else do we pay taxes for if not for the state to provide us with essential services?
Anders Dybwad, Tromsų, Norway

I am qualified General Nurse. I have applied for registration with UKCC and I am ready to do any voluntary work in the hospital, but I am not allowed by the Home Office regulations. I have to wait for six months and in the same time people will lie on the trolley and government will look for the nurses all over the world.
Natalia Steshov, Hartlepool

Labour's NHS plan is appalling just like everything about the party. If Labour think that they can fool people into thinking that waiting lists are down then they are insane. Putting a few 'Walk in' centres on a few street corners is not helping anyone.
Darren Ward, Peterborough


Since he arrived at the new hospital the story has turned into a nightmare

Andrew, Newbury, UK
My father was admitted to a hospital built under the Private Finance Initiative earlier this week. We were very pleased with the service at a London teaching hospital, however since he arrived at the new hospital the story has turned into a nightmare. He has been left in a room on his own, the staff said (quote) 'he's been dumped on us, we don't know anything about him' when asked about the deterioration in his condition which has been apparent this week. My mother discovered him in bed, sheets soiled and dirty pyjamas thrown into the corner of his room at 2.00pm today! I could go on, but to cut a long story short we're appalled. The words 'Group 4' and 'prisons' spring to mind. Let's hope he can survive a few more days of PFI care - for now I'm extremely worried.
Andrew, Newbury, UK

Whilst I am sure that a University of the NHS will benefit some staff, the problems of staffing levels and better patient care are far simpler and cheaper to solve. Nursing has become a high-tech, degree entry profession, which excludes thousands of less qualified, but caring, competent people who could really make a difference to patient care and morale. There used to be a nursing auxiliary, superseded by the health care assistant, whose job was and should be, not nursing, beyond the basics of taking temperatures and changing dressings, but who would wash and feed patients who needed help, who would write letters, fill in forms, deal with visitors, or just have the time to spend with patients, talking and listening. Nurses no longer have the time, and some patients are neglected, not from malice, but lack of an alternative carer presence.
Jane Green, Leeds, West Yorkshire UK

The only way to save the NHS is to fully privatise it. I'm 71 and have been private all my life. I resent paying for other people's inability to stay well. If people want a service, then do as I have done. Work hard, and pay for it!
Mr Harry Wentworth, Torquay, Devonshire, England


This situation will only be solved effectively with increased funding, and if that means increased taxes, then so be it.

Jack Roper, Henley, UK
It is obvious that the NHS is in dire straits, and this situation will only be solved effectively with increased funding, and if that means increased taxes, then so be it. As for the question of recruitment of doctors and nurses, this can only be solved when we learn to treat our medical staff with the respect and honour due to their wonderful work and invaluable contributions to society: that means more pay, fewer working hours, and more hospitals to share out the load. That means, one could protest, more taxes; but I for one believe that a decent NHS of which we can all be proud is a great reward for a small price.
Jack Roper, Henley, UK

Why hasn't this Government put funding into the NHS, putting more beds onto the wards, cutting waiting lists and getting more staff. The NHS should better than what it is.
Shelley Pearce, Lincoln England

Whenever politicians discuss the NHS I get sick of the endless mantra they all chant: "Doctorsandnurses, Doctorsandnurses, Doctorsandnurses". Do they think that there is a recruitment crisis only among Doctorsandnurses? When you take your sample along to the hospital, it is not Doctorsandnurses who look at it under the microscope to detect the bacteria swimming about in there and making you ill. This is done by Biomedical Scientists. Unlike Doctorsandnurses, Biomedical Scientists are not usually seen by patients and don't have the BMA or the RCN to speak up for them. They are therefore assumed by politicians to be invisible. The NHS is not safe in the hands of any government who refuses to recognise this highly-skilled, overworked and low paid group of people without whom no hospital could hope to function.
Robert Greenwood, Chatham, Kent, UK

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