Thursday, 31 December 2009

Free Can Be Unfair

Now here's a good idea: The Mail reports that the Conservatives are considering plans to fine drinkers whose state of inebriation is so bad that they end up hospitalized either because of injuries or simply their incapacity. Quite right too.

The NHS, when it was created, was supposed to be a system to improve the nation's health, the costs of which would slowly decrease as we all became fitter and healthier. It hasn't happened like that. Now all too often people turn up at hospital with minor ailments demanding attention or drink so much that they require medical attention. In so doing they cost the nation billions and divert resources from those who are ill through no fault of their own.

The binge drinking epidemic in this country is getting worse. I hold my hands up and admit that I am not innocent of often drinking more than I should, although I refuse to join the New Labour killjoys and condemn all boozing, I enjoy it too much. And anyway I may have frequently made a fool of myself and done bad impersonations of everyone from Frank Sinatra to John Travolta when tipsy, but I have never yet ended up in hospital as a consequence. I knew a girl however (who shall remain nameless) who regularly used to go out, drink around a dozen pints and think nothing of it. On one occasion, whilst on the way home after such a session, she was climbing around some derelict buildings, fell through a skylight and broke her back. The cost of her misadventure must have been in the tens of thousands.

Politicians need to get real about the NHS and tell the public to do the same. The principle of free at the point of use is being abused and is costing us all, and more than in mere financial terms. In an NHS which is forced to make choices about drugs which literally prolong life, it is unacceptable for us to be paying out needlessly for those who think they have the right to do what they like and let someone else pick up the bill. Such behaviour ought to be socially unacceptable, but in the rights based society that politicians and in particular this government have encouraged, there are no consequences for this kind of antisocial behaviour.

As a matter of course, all patients being admitted into hospital should be identified through their National Insurance number and fined if they are found to have behaved recklessly or are using the service excessively for no good reason. That would be fair and equitable. Such a system would also help to check the health tourism which is going on, enabling foreigners to come to Britain specifically to get free treatment for ailments they either couldn't get treated at home or which would cost them tens of thousands. Our coming period of austerity is going to be bad enough without us offering a free ride to the feckless or foreign freeloaders.

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