If you want to see a twin of our healthcare reform battle, try the other side of the Atlantic: England is undertaking the biggest reform of its government healthcare program, the National Health Service, as part of its massive 5-year austerity program. “After a year in parliament, more scrutiny than any bill in living memory, and more than 1,000 amendments in the House of Commons and the House of Lords,” as the Guardian newspaper put it, “MPs cast their final vote for the (reform) bill.” At its heart are plans which will give primary care providers more sway over the NHS’s £106 billion annual budget, and introduce more private competition. British reform moves quicker than ours — the program takes effect over the next 12 months. A major plank of the reform is the NHS Mandate, under which the government will set targets for improvement in 60 areas of care, such as patients surviving after cancer treatment, and medical errors. The goals? Reduce administration costs by one third.
And, in another instance of seeing double, we’re watching the other side working hard to repeal it and vowing to do so on Day One if they win the next election. “The government’s reforms to the NHS in England have undermined the service and opened the door to privatization,” said (opposition) shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, who championed Labour’s motion, which claims that treatments and services are being rationed in the NHS. In an opposition-led debate on the NHS on 16 July 2012, Mr. Burnham said: “We will repeal the bill; it is a defective, sub-optimal piece of legislation that is saddling the NHS with a complicated mess.” But (government) Health Minister, Simon Burns said: “Far from the meltdown that some gleefully predicted, we have seen a robust and resilient NHS delivering better care for patients. Waiting times remain low and stable, in fact below where they were at the last general election.”
So, just to recap, here we have the conservatives championing reform and austerity and the liberals pleading for repeal in opposition to a privatized system and rationing. All of this, of course, is part of the cost-cutting program that some say caused Britain to fall back into a double-dip recession. After the 2010 general election, Prime Minister David Cameron, leader of a coalition of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, initially said that the austerity program would finish by 2015. During this period, more than £80 billion would be raised by spending cuts and tax rises. However, the program was extended to 2017 last fall with further savings £30 billion hoped for.