Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wasting NHS Resources

When seemingly sane people talk about the NHS they so often lose all commonsense. It's a bit like mega successful businessmen who buy a football club, all their business acumen seems to go out of the window and they screw it up.

Here is a commonsense article from a journalist, Jamie Whyte, about GPs missing the point of people wasting their time. Or rather missing the commonsense approach to deterring people from wasting their time:

I like most of the doctors I know. They are earthy and unsqueamish, about minds as well as bodies. Few, however, know much about economics. This normally does not matter. But doctors occasionally stray off piste, get on to health policy issues and make fools of themselves. Yesterday’s letters page of The Times contained a vivid example.

Seventeen health professionals wrote lamenting that about 20 per cent of visits to GPs are for “common disturbances to normal good health, such as coughs and colds”. This costs the NHS about £2 billion a year without making any difference to people’s health, since they could just as effectively treat themselves. According to the medics, “The NHS has become the victim of a demand-led culture.”

Then, having got almost all the way to the answer, they miss it. Reading their letter is like watching your one-year-old with a square peg in hand and the square hole directly in view, trying to stuff it into the round hole. The square peg in the medics’ hand is the word “demand”, and the square hole is the fact that the price of visiting a GP is zero.

Perhaps the most familiar law of economics is that demand increases as price decreases, be it demand for apples, foreign holidays, doctors’ visits or anything else of value. The reason people visit GPs so frivolously is that it costs nothing besides the lost time. The obvious solution to the problem is to charge a fee. £10 should be enough to deter people with sniffles. People with something potentially more threatening will be happy to pay this.

But the medics miss this trick. Instead they fall back on the hoary old distinction between real needs and mere wants, which they combine with the popular modern absurdity that people should be educated into acting against their own interests. Specifically, they call on politicians to “enable GPs and practice nurses to give people the confidence to use the NHS at the point of need, not demand; educate people to manage minor ailments . . .”

If they think this is a good method for rationing GP visits, perhaps they will like this idea for rationing food. Nationalise supermarkets, set the price of all food to zero, then eliminate the problem of wasteful overconsumption by educating people that they should take only the food they need rather than what they want.

The proposal is obviously absurd. No such education could possibly have the desired effect; no one could sensibly specify which food is really needed as opposed to merely wanted; and, even if they could, why should people be allowed to eat only what they need? All the same goes for visiting a GP.

I can already hear the bleeding heart liberals raging about how the bodies of the poor will be piling up in the streets if those callous bastards brought in a £10 charge to see a GP. Bullshit, it's the price of a packet of fags and a pint of bitter for God's sake.

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