By Edward Hadas
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Every country in the world seems to have a healthcare crisis. The problems are particularly severe in rich and ageing countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, where expectations are especially high and the systems were designed for a different reality. A new report from The King’s Fund, a British charity, suggests a better approach.
The policies proposed by the independent Commission on the Future of Health and Social Care in England, chaired by economist Kate Barker, are designed for the UK. However, the basic idea is universal. Barker says that the two largely separate arms of the welfare state – healthcare provision and direct financial support for individuals in need – should be merged.
The two used to be quite distinct. Healthcare dealt with illnesses and the largely short-term treatments provided required doctors, nurses and, more rarely, hospitals. Welfare programmes assisted the ill, but their chief objective was to counter economic and social problems such as unemployment or dysfunctional families.
Now, as the Barker Commission points out, a fairly high proportion of the population is in need of constant attention that is simultaneously social, economic and medical. Older people, say, with serious handicaps such as dementia need help. But not just medical help. An increasing number of younger people have complex conditions, such as those associated with drug addiction, in which the physical problems both cause and are amplified by social difficulties.