It is a truth universally acknowledged that people really don’t like paying tax. Even (or perhaps especially) people who can easily afford it. Elections are won when one party can accuse the other of plans for death taxes, stealth taxes or dementia taxes – delivered in the form of ‘bombshells’ or ‘double whammys’. The idea of paying tax is rarely presented as a quietly satisfying civic duty, more as an arithmetical ambush to be resisted. But reality bites. The wise heads at the Institute for Fiscal Studies don't press the panic button for nothing, so their sobering assessment that maintaining the NHS is going to need a £2000 tax increase should be taken very seriously.
Fortunately the public are headed this way too. A recent British Social Attitudes survey found that 61% of voters would let the government dig a bit deeper into their pay packet, if the money could be directed towards the NHS. It’s the latest in a series of surveys to indicate this trend, but will politicians follow the public’s lead on this?
It’s possible. Even the present Government, whose funding of the NHS has failed to keep pace with our peers in the OECD, has hinted that the end of the pay freeze may be the first of a series of measures aimed at securing the Service’s future, including a long-term funding settlement which Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is said to be lobbying for. The survey might also give Labour a little more ambition on its plans for the NHS. In our April issue, Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth eloquently set out his vision of a new deal for nurses, but we could go further. We don’t need to just reintroduce the bursary, we need to double or treble the number of its recipients.
True the troubles of the NHS won’t be solved solely by throwing money at them, but they certainly won’t be solved without it. Let’s see who grasps the nettle first.
Mike Shallcross is the Editor of Independent Nurse