Sunday, May 18, 2008

Private treatment and the NHS

There are no doctors' surgeries, as such, in the town where I live, instead we have a large Medical Centre. This has the sort of homely ambience you might find in an upmarket multi-storey car park, and the personal relationships patients used to have with their GPs has been replaced by a queueing system that means I have almost never seen the same doctor twice. It's a taste of things to come - the current policy of the NHS is to replace traditional, smaller surgeries with large polyclinics.

Alternative medicine has a toehold there; osteopathy is now available in the Medical Centre where previously patients were told to go to an Alternative Health Centre a few miles away. Aromatherapy isn't yet available, but I think that's just a matter of time. The Department of Health is deliberately commissioning reports they know in advance will recommend that Complimentary and Alternative Medicine be made available, and be paid for, by the NHS. But for the moment, you have to pay for such therapies yourself - therapies such as

reiki, reflexology, aromatherapy, therapeutic massage, spiritual healing, acupuncture and hypnotherapy
In today's Times, there is a story of a woman who has been refused treatment by the NHS because she had previously paid privately for something:
Maureen Alden, 74, from Bristol, spent her life savings on a £13,000 operation two years ago to implant wires into her brain which prevent migraines by stimulating the nerves. The operation was successful and cut her attacks by 80%.

The battery which powers the medical device is about to run out, however, and the retired typist cannot obtain funding for a replacement.
This is a government policy, and it is being contested by the NHS:
HOSPITAL chiefs are demanding an urgent review of the government’s policy of withdrawing National Health Service care from patients who pay privately for additional cancer medicines.

The NHS Confederation, which represents hospital chief executives and managers, says denying NHS treatment to patients who pay for top-up drugs is “perverse” and against “common sense”.

The move comes after it emerged that women suffering from breast cancer have been threatened with losing NHS care if they seek to improve their chances by paying privately for an extra drug.
This policy has already resulted in people dying earlier than necessary.

But let's be clear what the policy of this government is. It is permissible to pay privately for therapies at the same time as a person is receiving NHS treatment, but only if they are alternative therapies. In other words, you can pay for private treatment, so long as that private treatment will be ineffective.

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