Spent reforms

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IT is one thing to trumpet the message to the electorate that the health budget is being hugely increased. But it is quite another to turn on the spending taps without ensuring that there is any means of measuring how effective the increase has been, or even whether it went where it was supposed to go.

It has long been recognised that one of New Labour’s greatest failings was to increase health spending without ensuring that the NHS underwent structural reform so that it operated more efficiently when the time came to slow down the rate of increase. But it is increasingly clear that not even basic checks were implemented to ensure that the investment was correctly targeted.

The latest indication of this comes in a National Audit Office study showing that, in spite of a 38 per cent increase in spending on neurological services between 2006 and 2010, emergency hospital admissions for people with conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease have risen by almost a third. Meanwhile, the Department of Health is left wringing its hands and complaining that it is unable to say whether the extra spending has had any effect.

Easy as it is to lament Labour’s mess, however, it is not quite so simple to correct it. Faced with this type of failing throughout the health service, it is difficult to see how the coalition Government, with its convoluted reforms and very little money to spend, can put things right. One lesson, however, is clear – unless reform plans can be accurately measured and monitored, they are not even worth the paper they are written on.