The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in modern history and governments worldwide have taken varying approaches. In the UK, despite the outstanding success of the vaccine programme, there are many areas where the National Health Service has proven to be woefully unprepared. The NHS employs 1.3 million people. It is the biggest employer in Europe, but we had a shortfall of over 40,000 nurses and fewer doctors per head of population than only four other European countries going into the pandemic; we had fewer critical care beds and worse health outcomes than other similar developed nations and, most shamefully, our COVID-19 death toll remains one of the highest in the world.
Ironically, it is the pandemic which now presents the UK with the greatest opportunity to reform the NHS since 1948. What, for many years, has been a political football that no government has dared to tackle, has now become a political necessity that cannot be ignored. For the past year, the British people have been asked to “Protect our NHS”. It remains, however, the job of the NHS to protect us and, despite the expertise and dedication of frontline staff, the organisation itself, in its current form, is patently unfit for purpose; we will never have a better opportunity to obtain “buy-in” from all concerned.
I propose the establishment of a Royal Commission, involving all major political parties and inviting participation from the devolved UK Governments, to make recommendations (with a 2-year deadline) to review and reorganise the NHS, considering the following criteria:
• Funding requirements:
o Supporting an aging population (prolonged medical care)
o Merging physical and mental health care with social care
o Rising cost of new drugs/equipment
• Prevention before cure, i.e., individuals taking more responsibility for their own health