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British politics

The selfish professionals holding us back

Ben Whishaw in the BBC series This Is Going to Hurt

Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement outlined cuts to almost all public services, says Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. Rightly so. Underfunding isn’t the problem: the last two health secretaries both agreed their department “could live within its budget”, after “embarrassing” IFS figures showed that extra funding wasn’t resulting in more treatment. The real issue is the professionals themselves: the doctors, barristers and teachers who push back against efficiency-boosting reforms in order to protect their roles. Take the NHS. Changes that would slash waiting times, like letting nurses carry out simple operations and pharmacists prescribe a wider range of drugs, are met with determined resistance. “The fundamental structure of the medical profession remains archaic.”

The court system is similarly “close to collapse”. A backlog of 60,000 delayed cases, driven by a “chronic shortage of barristers, prosecutors and judges”, means criminals are getting let off. But any suggestion that “merging the activities of barristers and solicitors” could solve this crisis “is passionately opposed by the legal profession”. University professors are equally horrified by ideas to raise productivity, such as shortening courses by lengthening academic terms. Taxpayers have guaranteed student loans of £182bn – “not far off the cost of England’s NHS” – much of which funds accommodation. Yet lecturers demanded that “in-person” teaching was immediately restored after lockdowns, over more cost-effective remote learning. Rishi Sunak has a “golden opportunity” to take on these professionals. “The least he can do is demand they reform themselves and their services to deliver value for money.”