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Our bungling NHS needs radical surgery

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

“Picture the distant future of healthcare,” says Sherelle Jacobs in The Daily Telegraph. Your great-grandson uses his genomic sequencer to check his spinach and eggs for E. coli. His wife is making a full recovery from cancer because her smart watch detected it early. He’s a medical engineer (“they used to call them doctors”) overseeing nanobots at the local intensive-care trailer park, which “never gets overwhelmed”. What a world it will be. Or rather, what a world it could be – were it not for the NHS’s “retrograde failure to embrace new technology”.

We all know the horror stories: from Tony Blair’s disastrous effort to digitise the NHS from the top down to the “surreal defeat” of efforts to wean the health service off fax machines. Forty per cent of primary care admin could “probably be automated tomorrow”. But politicians are terrified of trying to improve our “sacred NHS”. And thanks to all-powerful unions and self-interested executives, even minor reforms are “met with street protests”. The reality is that technological change is the only affordable way to provide adequate healthcare for our rapidly ageing population. When, finally, this is recognised, the “creaky, tax-sucking public sector leviathan” will be shown for what it is: a health service that has “trapped the country in an insane hell of cyclical problems”. Until then the NHS will go on holding us to ransom “every Covid/flu season, bungling flu jabs and then struggling to treat the resultant cases in understaffed ICUs”.

Why it matters Our ageing population will be a big problem sooner than people realise: by the end of this decade, every baby boomer will have reached 65 and many will be in their eighties, pushing up the prevalence of chronic conditions and hospital admissions. As Torsten Bell notes in The Times, there’s only one way the government will be able to pay for all the added healthcare: higher taxes.