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Saturday 29th October 2016

Farewell to universal healthcare?

17th November 2008

Guardian columnist Mark Lawson suggests that allowing rich patients to pay for better pills than their neighbours' sits ill with NHS principles.


A fundamental change in the nature of the NHS was announced, on a day that the media was preoccupied with the outcome of the US presidential election.

It was the day that the government revealed that patients who buy drugs the health service refuses to fund will no longer have to opt out of public medicine and pay for their own nursing and care.

The change of position follows emotive stories about cancer patients having to spend their saving on drugs to extend their life. Now they will only need to spend half.

But this is as far as it should be allowed to go, particularly in the economic recession that is affecting the NHS as much as anybody.

It means NHS wards will be filled with "first-class and coach-class patients."

Realistically, there has long been two tiers between free of charge patients: those that are articulate and have social standing have always been better serviced.

Doctors have broadly welcomed the decision. It reduces one of the more distressing aspects of their job but will see the NHS treating two sets of patients with differing life expectancy simply because of their bank balance.

This differentiation in death dates is one of the "most ghastly applications of the market" overturning a noble principle stretching beyond the parallel existence of public and private medicine. It represents a huge shift from the principles of universal healthcare.


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