Scottish health chiefs ‘held secret talks about forcing wealthier patients to pay for NHS treatment’
Health chiefs have held secret talks about forcing Scotland’s wealthiest patients to pay for treatment on the NHS.
A bombshell report from a meeting revealed senior management discussed the introduction of a ‘two-tier’ health service.
The revelations have been called ‘deeply alarming’ and a ‘damning’ indictment of the SNP’s management of the NHS.
The suggestion of a system where ‘people who can afford it, go deprived’ was made during discussions of possible NHS reforms among senior health officials.
Other controversial measures were also discussed, including a review of free prescriptions, sending patients home faster, suspending funding for new drugs and a wave of efficiency savings.
SNP ministers did not deny the issues had been raised, but Nicola Sturgeon insisted the principle that the NHS was free for all was “not up for discussion”.
According to draft minutes of a 45-minute meeting of NHS directors, seen by the BBC, a number of “themes, issues and ideas” about “what a transformed NHS could look like” were discussed.
Draft minutes of a 45-minute meeting of NHS directors revealed recent conversations ‘with NHS Scotland chief executive Caroline Lamb, pictured, about designing a two-tier system where people who can afford it become deprived”
The minutes, marked ‘in confidence, not for further sharing’, show the meeting began with an update on ‘recent conversations’ with NHS Scotland chief executive Caroline Lamb, who is also chief executive. Scottish Government General Health and Social Services – the department overseen by Health Secretary Humza Yousaf.
The minutes cover the question “what can we do with the financial constraints we have?” »
They say some members of the public are “already making the choice to pay privately” and that the NHS is “paying the cost of life-enhancing, not life-saving treatments”.
One suggested possible reform of the service is to “design into a two-tier system where people who can afford it, go private”.
It led to questions about why senior civil servants thought they could discuss possible reforms through the chief executive of NHS Scotland.
Scottish Conservative health spokesperson Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “These revelations are deeply alarming.
“It is clear that NHS leaders are talking about abandoning the founding principles of our health service and introducing patient charges – and that they believe they have the political cover to do so.
“Despite protests from Humza Yousaf, privatization of the Scottish NHS appears to be actively considered by the SNP. It’s scandalous. Health care must remain free at the point of use for all.
“The SNP cannot be trusted with the Scottish NHS. Humza Yousaf has lost the confidence of staff and the fact that such drastic proposals have been put forward shows the desperation felt across the health service as a winter crisis approaches.
Dr Gulhane added: “Humza Yousaf must take responsibility for this lack of leadership and step down – or be sacked.
The Scottish Government’s Chief Health and Social Care Officer is overseen by Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, pictured. A Conservative health spokesperson said the SNP government must ‘be clear about its plans for our health service’
“The SNP government must also unveil its plans for our health service.”
The minutes show officials acknowledging that it is “almost easier to identify what cannot be done more than what is/will be”.
Other possible reforms suggested include a proposal for patients to be sent home within a maximum of 23 hours; a review of the “cost of long-term prescribing when there are alternative options”; an option to ‘suspend funding for new developments/drugs’ unless proven to save money for the NHS; new efficiency savings; billing for access to information requests; shutting down care services altogether and instead sending patients home for treatment.
Private hospitals have reported an increase in patients as waiting lists for routine operations on the NHS in Scotland soared to almost 750,000.
The most recent data shows that private treatment in independent hospitals in Scotland increased by 56%, from 26,435 in July 2019 to June 2020, to 39,650 between April 2021 and March 2022.
The number of patients paying for operations, tests and other procedures in private hospitals rose to 4,700 from July to September 2021, compared to 2,800 for the same period in 2019.
The minutes of the September 21 meeting also raise questions about ministers’ plans for a Scottish national care service, acknowledging that there is a group within government which “recognizes that it is perhaps not not be possible to provide what was originally proposed”.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane called the revelations “deeply alarming”. He added: ‘It’s clear NHS leaders are talking about abandoning the founding principles of our health service and introducing patient charges – and they feel they have the political cover to do so’
They also suggest spending £800million on the plan “doesn’t make sense” given the financial challenges facing the NHS.
Last night the government said the minutes referred to an ‘informal’ meeting of a ‘small number’ of NHS directors.
In a statement, Mr Yousaf said: ‘The policy of the Scottish Government could not be clearer.
Our NHS must be maintained on Bevan’s founding principles – publicly owned, publicly operated and free where needed.
“The provision of health services should always be based on a patient’s individual needs, and any suggestion that this should somehow be based on ability to pay is abhorrent.”