WRITING in this column back in July last year, I asked whether we, as UK citizens, were willing to pay for the NHS we want?

I suggested that, instead of knocking the best health service in the world if it fails to deliver exactly what we want when we want it, we should be willing to put our money where our mouth is and stump up more in taxes to cover the cost of a demand that has increased out of all proportion since the NHS was founded in 1948.

That demand, according to independent research by the King’s Fund, has been driven by both population increase and patients’ rising expectations regarding quality of care and speed of access.

To quote from that article: “The real question, then, is this: if we expect that level of service, how are we going to pay for it? And the only answer – if we are determined to protect the key principles and avoid biting the bullet of privatisation of some NHS services – is surely by increased taxation?”

The point has been thrown sharply back into focus by the vociferous campaign of objection by health service unions, particularly Unison, to the idea that Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is considering creating a wholly-owned subsidiary company to manage the maintenance of hospital estates and facilities and the staff who work in those areas.

Now I’m willing to bet that most of the people who want to protect the NHS – myself included – tend to think in terms of ensuring that its frontline services are free to those who need them.

In fact, most of the response I received to that original column supported the central point but asked why I had failed to mention the money wasted by the NHS on backroom costs, particularly high salaries for managers, “inefficient organisation” and “wasteful” practices such as throwing away perfectly usable crutches and wheelchairs and the like.

They would be happy to pay extra tax to fund reduced waiting times as well as more and better-trained doctors and nurses, they said, but only if it could be guaranteed that the money was spent on the frontline.

Some even suggested that increased car parking fees – a long-standing target of T&A letter-writers and others – was a price worth paying if it meant genuine improvements to medical services.

Of course, the NHS is a big and complex organisation and it needs efficient computer systems and highly-skilled, specialist managers to ensure it runs as effectively as possible. There is no point, after all, employing senior doctors and consultants to look after the accounts when they should be delivering cures and saving people’s lives.

But, surely, part of ensuring that the NHS is true to its founding principle, of being free at the point of use, is guaranteeing that the maximum possible percentage of its funding is spent on delivering its vital medical services?

And that means every effort possible should be made to reduce the cost of peripheral services, such as running its buildings, to its lowest achievable level – and if that means managing through a more cost-effective, business-like process then so be it.

The so-called Alternative Delivery Model has been shown to work elsewhere and, in fact, Airedale Hospital has already implemented it and transferred 319 staff to a subsidiary, which also covers procurement services.

Unison, which calls the plans “poisonous and destructive”, is also trying to win public sympathy by scaring people into believing this is the “the thin end of the wedge” that will lead to privatisation and “replacement of the NHS with US-style personal insurance schemes.”

I believe most people will see that for the nonsense it is. No government of any political persuasion would dare to privatise the delivery of the NHS’s medical services. It would be a suicidal move destined to consign their party to the wilderness for evermore.

So let’s get on with saving money in ways that don’t directly affect the patient and thereby help to ensure we get the NHS we all want.

* IF YOU haven’t yet had time to check out the new bradfordfilmheritage.com website, I can thoroughly recommend it.

It’s a fascinating insight into the role the district has played in almost 200 movies and TV programmes over the years, ranging from the most recent – such as Funny Cow and Ghost Stories – to gems of the stature of Room at the Top and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and there are also some extraordinary glimpses into the history of both the city and film itself.

The locations used are all plotted on a map which leads to the history of the locations and details about the films themselves. It would provide a brilliant diversion for children during Easter to seek out some of them with their parents. who, if nothing else, could learn some great facts to drop into dinner conversations: “Did you know….”

* IT WAS good to see the district’s MPs – Imran Hussain, Naz Shah, Judith Cummins, Philip Davies and John Grogan – getting together to discuss major developments coming in the next few years, including the vitally important Next Stop Bradford campaign.

When our representatives step outside of party dogma and political ideology and concentrate on real issues and how they affect their constituents’ lives, there is always potential to achieve so much more. After all, they surely share one common goal: for Bradford to thrive to the benefit of its residents. The more the merrier…