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An agenda for health

Head of sales and marketing, Standard Life Healthcare

There is not one person working anywhere in the financial services industry who is unaffected by the Budget announcements regarding Nat-ional Insurance increases and healthcare funding.

At a commercial level, it is impossible to carry out full financial planning without at least a nod in the direction of healthcare planning – whether it is planning for funding future healthcare or taking steps to make sure that poor health does not undo the best of past financial planning.

But it is more than simply a commercial issue. Every person reading this is also a patient, a parent, a guardian or carer – and, of course, a funder – of the nation&#39s health services.

Getting healthcare right is, as the Chancellor knows,at least partly about funding it properly – and that must mean taking a broader view than simply funding it through taxation.

Derek Wanless&#39s report to Gordon Brown attempts to predict requirements in healthcare and funding needs to create a vision of the health service in 20 years time.

But there are many variables involved – the impact of genetics, the ageing population, people&#39s willingness to pay more tax and what level of economic growth we achieve.

If we take any 20-year slice of recent history it would be difficult to imagine that we could project ahead from the beginning of the first decade to the end of the second with any sort of accuracy.

Governments of every political persuasion are not known for taking a view much beyond the lifetime of one, or maybe two, Parliaments. So a commitment of this type would require a unique change in political attitudes.

Wanless rightly points out that estimates such as this are subject to a large degree of uncertainty and he says that new knowledge and research will evolve.

The report acknowledges that Standard Life Healthcare pointed out in its submission to the inquiry that the importance of assessing, setting and then meeting consumer expectations cannot be emphasised enough.

In simple terms we have got to find a way to give people the health service they want. Standard Life Healthcare believes that will be best achieved through a mixture of taxation and private provision and will continue to champion the consumer in this way.

We still have not got long-term and social care right as a nation. Wanless recognises that a review of healthcare would not be complete without considering the link between health and social care.

These are important health issues that have impacted on savings and investments in recent years as the baby boomers get older and look to the health service for the free cradle-to-the-grave service once promised.

This year&#39s Budget, more than any before, has created a strong link between the broader financial services industry and healthcare in general – PMI in particular.

Many commentators argue that Wanless&#39s decision not to support alternative forms of funding healthcare, backed up by the Chancellor&#39s plans, means that the PMI industry will not see any incentives for people to take out PMI or the removal of disincentives from those who do.

But people are, in effect, voting with their feet when it comes to a mixed healthcare system. People understand the reality of healthcare funding, they are exploring newer self-pay savings and insurance-based healthcare products. They are telling pollsters that they do not see tax increases as the panacea to the NHS&#39s ills that have so far polarised the debate between state and private provision.

The PMI industry and the broader financial services industry now has a chance to advance the debate as healthcare funding continues to become a personal financial issue for all of us, just as it has become one of the country&#39s major financial issues for the next two decades and beyond.

In the meantime, the consumer will continue to set the agenda for change and it is up to us to make the products available that they clearly want as part of a new age for healthcare funding and provision.

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