With the NHS now costing the UK over £100 billion each year (about a sixth of total government spending) people are now looking more closely than ever at where that money is spent. The NHS bean-counters and doctors themselves are quite knowledgeable on this but do patients know much about the costs of their treatments?
It seems that patients are mainly ignorant not just about the costs of individual procedures but even about the order of magnitude of costs. A hip operation for example costs more than £5,000 while even a cataract operation costs almost £1,000 for each eye. Procedures that involve overnight stays will usually be the most expensive types of treatments with a one night stay costing the NHS about £700. But drugs and devices are expensive too with a pacemaker device alone being about £2,000.
Each year at budget time there is much talk about prescription charges for drugs but here again the British public are under a serious misunderstanding about how much things actually cost. While prescription charges bring in about £400 million in revenue each year the real costs to the NHS of buying the drugs is over 20 times as much at over £10 billion.
So some politicians and others have suggested that when people leave hospital after they have been treated they should be given a letter mentioning the cost of their treatment and at the pharmacy they should be told what their prescription drugs have actually cost the NHS. The idea is that this would make people reluctant to get drugs they don’t need and that they would generally be more appreciative of the free-at-the-point-of-use treatments they do receive. It might also make people less inclined to demand that the NHS should cater for an ever-increasing range of conditions. One senior retired surgeon that I spoke to about this was very enthusiastic and according to recent press reports all parties are in favour of more information being given on costs, so why isn’t it happening yet?