The German government initiated a number of healthcare reforms towards the end of July, which resulted in patients having to pay for visits to doctors.
Michael Queen, finance director of FTSE-100 company 3i and member of the NHS taskforce on the future of the health service, said similar reforms in the UK were inevitable.
‘Demographically, the UK cannot afford to sustain this level of healthcare over the next 50 years,’ he said. ‘All developed economies have a dramatically ageing population and a smaller working force.
‘Once you get to a certain age, the cost goes higher and there is a smaller number of working people.’
He added that ‘some form of healthcare rationing and more contributions towards healthcare will have to take place’ in the UK.
According to Queen, the reforms to German healthcare present an attractive prospect. ‘That sort of approach would be entirely appropriate in the UK,’ he said. ‘It’s a very sensible way of making people appreciate the service. If a service is free, you misuse it potentially, but if people have to pay, they do not go to the doctor with trivial issues. And poorer people will still get free healthcare.’
It is not an opinion shared by David Poynton, chair of CIPFA’s health panel and finance director at Birmingham health authority. ‘Changes like this will not occur in this country,’ he said, claiming the bureaucratic burden and successive governments’ commitment to the present system would prohibit such a move.
The debt-ridden German healthcare system has undertaken its biggest reform since the country’s reunification in 1990, which will save the government about €23bn (£16bn) by 2007.
Germans must now pay to visit the doctor, or get private health insurance. It means the costs of prescription medicines, hospitalisation and sick leave compensation will be redistributed.
The NHS taskforce, of which Queen is a member, was set up three years ago to explore different options for the future of the health service. Its members look at various aspects of the NHS, including finances, and advise ministers and MPs.
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