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View from the House

The NHS is consistently voted our best-loved institution, and British politics have been responsive - in the past 50 years, we have spent an ever growing proportion of our national income on health. In successive battles over the division of the spoils in Whitehall, the NHS has been a clear winner: its share of total spending has risen from 7% to nearly 20% since the 1950s, while defence has reduced from more than 20% to less than 5% of the total today.

We now know that health spending must continue to rise as so many people over the age of 65 are living longer which is wonderful but often comes with multiple conditions. Indeed, the number of people over the age of 65 will grow by more than four million over the next 15 years, while the number of working age people will grow much more slowly.

Yet, as we reach pension age I am keenly aware that tax rises would mean passing the buck to our children – the same cohort who are half as likely to own their home at 30 as baby boomers and spend more of their income to live in smaller places farther from work. For a definition of unfair, you would be hard pressed to find better. This debate is gathering pace at Westminster, and I think we should look seriously at turning National Insurance into a hypothecated tax to fund health and social care. This would also have the benefit of sharpening the debate on health spending as there would be a direct link between what we pay and the health service that we receive.

We also must not make the mistake that Tony Blair made in 1997 when he significantly increased the spending on health care without securing necessary reforms and efficiency improvements. Indeed, only last week a Times investigation found that the health service is routinely overpaying for unlicensed medicines. Since April 2013, it has spent £225 million on non-tariff specials but could have shaved off as much as £134 million if they had been purchased from cheaper suppliers.

Of course, I acknowledge that improvements have already been achieved in productivity to the average of 1.4% a year, but the point is this: in a few weeks’ time, on July 5, the National Health Service will celebrate its 70th anniversary. To mark this historic moment, the Government is poised to agree to billions more being poured into the NHS as an anniversary present. But in my view, the best present would be a realistic commitment to the productivity and efficiency improvements that can give us a service that works for the next 70 years without overburdening the next generation.


On Tuesday night I slipped down to Southampton to attend the Rolling Stones concert held there. The performance was sensational and it was enormously encouraging to see rock stars in their mid-70s so full of vigour and youth. A truly fabulous and unforgettable experience.

At the time of writing, there are still tickets available for the Rolling Stones in Coventry on 2 June 2018.

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