NHS in crisis: the problems run deeper than money

Money alone cannot solve the NHS's budget shortfall, reports Emily Hohler. We have to change the way we live.

As the UK's A&E crisis worsened and at least 14 hospitals declared "major incidents" (a status usually reserved for disasters), politicians responded in a predictable way.

Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, called for an emergency summit, while David Cameron accused Ed Miliband of wanting to use the NHS as a political football, says Matt Chorley in the Daily Mail. That's no surprise in the run-up to May's general election, given that the NHS is already a key battleground.

Warnings of a £30bn shortfall in public health funding during the next Parliament saw Chancellor George Osborne announce an extra £2bn for the NHS for 2015/16 in his Autumn Statement.

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Labour topped this by promising £2.5bn, and Nick Clegg has gone even further, pledging to spend £2bn on the NHS for four years in a row, says Rose Troup Buchanan in The Independent. Yet "the financial challenge facing the NHS is severe and it cannot be met by simply demanding ever greater sums of money", says The Times.

"Illness in Britain has changed." Most of the budget is now taken up by the treatment of chronic conditions, many of which are preventable. "The health of the nation is much better explained by what people eat, smoke and drink than it is by the way the NHS is organised."

The problem runs even deeper than "money for more staff or lifestyle choices", says Alice Thomson in The Times.

Technological advances and an ageing population have changed the needs of patients. There have been a million more A&E patients since the last election, hospitals are performing a million more operations, and GPs 2.1 million more consultations. That requires new approaches.

The Times has seen "surprising" and "heartening" examples of this: for instance, Airedale General Hospital's "groundbreaking" video-conferencing service allows it to monitor patients in their homes and give them advice 24-hours a day, reducing A&E visits by 60%.

What we need is an NHS that identifies and spreads best practice. "If best practice could become standard practice, Britain could still claim to have a health system that is the envy of the world."

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.