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Why NHS charging is bad for spinal cord injured people

There are currently more patients waiting for treatment than ever in the history of the NHS.

Starved of the necessary funds, fragmented through unnecessary reforms, and gradually being sold off to private corporations, it is easy to see why people are looking for solutions to ‘solve’ the NHS crisis.

Enter Sajid Javid MP, a former health secretary, who has burst back onto the scene, writing in the Times to deliver what he thinks is a wonder cure: charging people to use the NHS. Javid’s reasoning is clear – it’s a new model and a new way to generate desperately needed income.

Javid argues that the NHS as we know it is irreparably broken – but he at least partially ascribes this to covid pandemic when ‘an estimated ten million people stayed away from seeking care and treatment. Illness and conditions went undetected and untreated, causing a surge in demand, particularly at hospitals.’

However, he goes on to argue that a benefit of charging patients to use essential services such as your GP is that it might cause people to reconsider a visit to their local doctor.

The inconsistencies here are obvious: not visiting your GP is positive as it saves the NHS money. However, not using NHS services (such as your GP) is also a negative as it causes problems down the line as conditions go untreated, which will ultimately cost the NHS significantly more.

Our response

Much of our current campaigning work is focussed on highlighting to the NHS and policy makers that if only more resource was invested in early intervention and ensuring continual good quality care for SCI people, it will save the public purse a lot in the long run as incidences of pressure ulcers, autonomic dysreflexia and issues relating from poor bowel management would be significantly reduced.

That is why we are wholly opposed to any kind of disincentive to people accessing NHS services, including a monetary charge. We know that physical barriers to accessing GP and diagnostic services is a major issue for spinal cord issue people, but a financial barrier could be an even greater hindrance.

NHS charging could have a particularly harmful impact on spinal cord injured people who often require continuous medical attention throughout their lives post injury. This combination of high costs over a long period of time means spinal cord injured people would be some of the worst hit people in society by NHS charging. This would be hugely unfair given the already increased cost of living in our society as a disabled person.

Even if there were exemptions for SCI people or those on lower incomes, the disastrous state of the social care sector in England shows what happens when essential services are not universally delivered to all those who need it – a two tier system where those with average and above incomes are charged a lot to receive the service they need, while those on lower incomes are left with a vastly inferior service.

That is why we believe that everybody who requires social care should get it. The principles of a universal service that is free at the point of use should be extended to social care, and not diminished further in the NHS as Javid is proposing.

Increased funds are undoubtedly needed to revive our struggling NHS, but we are certain that charging for NHS services is not the way to do it.