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Government considers inquiry to decide on how NHS is funded in the future

Inquiry would consider the merits of patient charges and insurance schemes

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

An inquiry may be set up by the government to look at future funding options for the NHS and whether having a wholly tax-funded system is sustainable, a health minister has said. The inquiry would look at other options such as patient charges and insurance based systems.

The inquiry was proposed quietly in the House of Lords on 9 July by cross-bench peer Lord Patel during a debate he moved on NHS sustainability. With the majority of trusts forecasting deficits, and the UK struggling to match the health outcomes of economically similar countries, it was time to look at how the NHS should be funded in the future, he said.

At the end of the debate, in which patient charges, insurance schemes were mentioned, Lord Prior, the Department of Health’s minister for productivity, said he was interested in exploring the idea of an “independent inquiry” to look into the long-term sustainability of the health service and wanted to meet with Lord Patel and “two or three others” who spoke in the debate to discuss in more detail whether such an inquiry could be framed.

Lord Prior proposed that the inquiry could look at “What will the long-term demand for healthcare be in this country in 10 or 20 years’ time” and “will we have the economic growth to fund it?”

“I am personally convinced, having looked at many other funding systems around the world, that a tax funded system is the right one,” he said.

“However, if demand for healthcare outstrips growth in the economy for a prolonged period, of course that premise has to be questioned.”

Lord Prior said the inquiry would not have to be a royal commission, and that organisations such as the Nuffield Trust or the King’s Fund could be commissioned to examine the issues.

The proposal for an inquiry was backed by peers from across the political spectrum, including former Labour minister Lord Warner who said the tax-funded, largely free at the point of clinical need NHS was “rapidly approaching an existential moment” and that “a wise Government” would look at future options now.

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