Friday, 8 February 2013

Let's bring back the health care vouchers policy

How uncomfortable must Danny Boyle be feeling right now as the nation reads about the goings on in Stafford Hospital? Those of us who are all too aware of the NHS's failings watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony in despair, reminded once again that the organisation is "the closest thing the English have to a religion". As smiling children bounced around on beds of light, kindly nurses looking fondly on, it seemed as though the British would never support the idea of any alteration to our most beloved of state institutions. Yet six months later, revelations from Stafford have shown the Service for what it really is: a failed ideological mission too often resulting in unconscionable barbarity.

No-one listening to the relatives of those who suffered in Stafford Hospital can fail to ask: how can we be sure that this will never happen again? After all, it's only the very richest in this country who can avoid using the NHS at all, meaning that any one of us may fall victim to NHS mismanagement. As things stand, it's all too likely that similar stories of suffering will be reported time and again.

Dismantling the Service is not an option. The British people are wedded to the idea of a health service that's free at the point of use and any attempts to introduce an insurance element as on the continent are likely to be vociferously opposed. Any party that took the NHS apart may well be doing the country a favour, but it would make them unelectable for decades to come.

But that doesn't mean we should abandon all radical plans to introduce competition and change the NHS, and simply stick with what we've got. Which is why I was surprised to see that UKIP have abandoned their old policy to offer a voucher scheme allowing people to opt out of the NHS, if they so wished, by taking the money that would have been spent on an NHS service for them and giving it to a private hospital or doctor of their choosing instead.

Most Conservatives agree that Michael Gove is doing the best work in the cabinet at the moment, taking on another beloved free-at-the-point-of-use service and overhauling it for the better without compromising the fact that, as it's free, anyone can use it. The voucher system was one such idea that was mooted for schools - allowing parents to take the £7,000 per year that the government spends on their child's education and put it towards private schooling if they wanted to. Certainly we can (and should) also take other education policies such as allowing schools to be independent of the local authority and apply them to health care too.

So UKIP's Health Voucher policy was that rare thing nowadays: an innovative idea that would make a real change for the better. It was this sort of thinking that attracted me to UKIP in the first place: novel solutions that address our country's problems, not solutions that merely get one over the other parties. So why did we abandon it? Presumably because, after the Olympic opening ceremony, any criticism of the NHS was thought to be a vote loser.  If Stafford Hospital teaches us anything as a party it's that sooner or later the truth will out. We shouldn't abandon doing what's right just because it's not fashionable at the time. You never know when doing what's right will turn out to be a vote-winner after all.