Yesterday, I attended an extraordinary event organised by the private medical insurer Western Provident Association.
WPA had not only hired the UK’s top healthcare lawyer, Nigel Giffin QC, but they had commissioned an extensive poll on what members of the public and members of parliament think about various aspects of legal entitlement to the NHS.
Giffin shocked the audience when in contrast to the widespread belief held by most members of the public and MPs, there is “no legal right” to NHS treatment and care. Patients don’t even have a legal right to a second opinion.
During the event it became progressively clear that people living in England are facing ever larger medical bills because they cannot get life-saving drugs on the National Health Service that are now available in Scotland! According to Giffin, patients need only to be “ordinarily resident” in a district there to access full NHS care. The issue arises because cancer patients in Scotland can be prescribed on the NHS one or more of 19 life-saving or life-prolonging drugs that are denied patients south of the border. In addition, two drugs that can prevent blindness in some cases are available free only in Scotland.
Many cancer patients are put on chemotherapy courses lasting less than six weeks or less, followed by a period in which no treatment in given. This could make a trip to Scotland in some cases a worthwhile consideration for patients denied appropriate therapy in England or Wales. Greater availability of medicines – which can cost up to £100,000 per course – is not the only benefit enjoyed in Scotland. Scots get free university education and the old get free “personal” care – all subsidised by the English.
Bizarrely, almost a third of the public – 29 per cent – mistakenly believe that they do not have a legal right to use their own money to top up NHS treatment by privately purchasing drugs not available on the NHS. A slightly greater proportion of MPs – 31 per cent – thought likewise.
Talk about the blind, leading the blind!