Looking ahead to the future, there is no guarantee that the NHS will continue to thrive as it did in the past. Despite the reassuring rhetoric of the New Labour leadership, the Conservative Party has point out several drawbacks in the present system. These include “the lack of a family doctor service, inefficient long-term care services, and diminished priority for cancer patients”, etc (Sheaff, 2002). In the same vein, the King’s Fund report of March 2004 has criticized the Tony Blair government for not being able to meet expectations on hospice care, patient waiting times and patient choices. Given that the population in the UK is constantly aging, it is imperative that some innovative measure is taken to address this problem. As it is, “only the neediest elderly will receive publicly-funded assistance at home; as those with ‘mild to moderate needs’ must rely on alternative resources” (Merali, 2006). In the meantime, there is a growing sense of unease in the general population. In the same King’s Fund report, persistent problems relating to funding, rising costs, etc is also mentioned. Due to these persistent problems, the quality of NHS has not improved noticeably under the New Labour leadership. The current debate surrounding the NHS will prove crucial for not just the inhabitants of the UK but also for public healthcare systems all across the world. Possibly, realizing that decentralization and market orientation is a crucial factor, the Labour leadership has successfully introduced PFI as a way of easing pressure on government coffers while at the same time bring about significant improvement in the quality of health care (Sheaff, 2002). But as of date, the PFI has not met its full potential because the British citizenry continues to depend upon public health care services. Interestingly, it is the robust services sector that makes the NHS look off-colour, while at the same time making nationalized healthcare systems in other European nations look more attractive and efficient. But in reality, the NHS is not far behind any other nationalized healthcare system in Europe, including that of France. At this point in time, the UK faces a tough dilemma, and it has to choose between two alternatives. It has to either “maintain publicly funded health care and suffer a dampened economy, or take a chance on US-style private health care and have a more competitive economy” (Gray & Harrison, 2004). But for the British electorate, neither option is easy to adopt.
And finally, the Labour government will do well to heed to the criticisms raised by the Conservative opposition with regard to the present state of NHS. As the Tories rightly contend,
“Labour’s style of health care administration is far too centralized and bureaucratic, a major problem given Britain’s aging population and growing rate of health care innovation. An aging population will increase demand for health care, and a lack of proper competition will make it difficult for hospitals to bring in new, more efficient technology. An inflexible, centralized system simply cannot handle this situation. To counter Labour’s claims of having added 100,000 new doctors and nurses since 1997, the Conservatives declare that a record 30,000 nurses leave the NHS each year. As a result, the Conservatives propose to decentralize and privatize the health sector. These measures, both vital in keeping pace with the global economy, would allow centralized health systems more flexibility to improve quality and patient satisfaction.” (Button & Roberts, 2007)
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