Britain's National Health Service needs root-and-branch reforms. But that's not what the new Labour government is advocating.
Last week, at the annual British Labour Party conference, Health Secretary Alan Johnson unveiled a series of reforms designed to rejuvenate the country's National Health Service (NHS) and make the socialized regime of medicine more "personalized." It was the latest in a decade-long string of efforts by Labour to improve a public system that, almost 60 years after its creation, remains plagued by problems ranging from lengthy delays between referral and treatment, to rationing of referrals, to excessively high rates of hospital infection by the MRSA "superbug," to dire financial woes that threaten to leave all these underlying problems unresolved for years to come.
Secretary Johnson's prescription? Urge general practitioners to keep their offices open beyond normal business hours. Encourage pharmacies to offer blood pressure checks. Ensure that gyms dispense advice on the prevention of sports injuries. Set a target of reducing the presence of the MRSA superbug in hospitals by 50 percent through a new system of inspections and fines.
Given the overwhelming, large-scale problems evident in today's NHS, these proposals seem like small ball - an effort to tinker at the edges rather than address the fundamental, institutional dilemmas beleaguering the system on which most Britons continue to rely exclusively for their health care. They also mark an abandonment of the deeper, more systemic NHS reforms pursued under former British prime minister Tony Blair.