Conservative MP Phillip Lee has caused quite a stir this week with his suggestion that patients suffering from so-called "lifestyle diseases," such as type II diabetes, pay for their own prescriptions rather than claim free or subsidized drugs from the National Health Service (NHS).
Lee made the comments as part a Free Enterprise Group panel aimed at producing proposals for reducing the UK government's spending. His suggestions come as part of a larger shake up of the NHS designed to deal with spiraling costs and decreasing standards. Lee argues the NHS requires fundamental reform or it faces certain "collapse" in the future. Whilst the system could "probably limp on for the rest of the decade," pressure from an aging population of baby boomers and a rise in younger patients has resulted in a mounting strain on resources.
Lee proposes to remove the right to free prescriptions for those with illnesses that are self-inflicted through particular lifestyle choices, type II diabetes being an obvious example with its strong correlation with obesity. He praised the Danish system of giving patients a modest budget for their prescriptions that they then have to top up themselves if they exceed. He estimates, according to Freedom of Information requests from the Department For Health, that such a scheme could save the NHS upwards of £400 million.
Speaking at London's Institute of Economic Affairs Lee argued;
It's time we actually got quite realistic about this because if we don't we are going to lose what most people would want in this country which is access to care when you need it irrespective of your means. In which case, if we don't start reforming now…then we are going to end up with collapse and the free for all and the pretty disgraceful situation you find in the US.
The Tory MP insists the proposals are not part of a desire to privatize health care or prevent it from being free at the point of access.
I just think that we have got to have an affordable system that rewards individual responsibility. If you want to have doughnuts for breakfast, lunch and dinner, fine, but there's a cost.