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NHS: Charitable Donations

Volume 789: debated on Thursday 22 February 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord O’Shaughnessy on 20 December 2017 (HL4078), why they have no plans to provide patients with the costs of their treatment in order to encourage charitable donations to the National Health Service.

My Lords, the NHS is based on the principle of access to treatment regardless of your means and according to clinical need. As a consequence, it is important that patients should not be exposed to the costs of care as it might deter them from seeking treatment. Where costs have been provided, such as the cost of missing GP appointments, this has been in an attempt to prevent waste.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we have a great gift in the NHS and that great gifts become even greater if one can make a return contribution to the giver? Why will the Government not reveal the cost of treatment to people—after they have had it, not before, and only to those people who request it—so that in turn they may make a voluntary contribution, either in full or in part, towards the cost of that treatment? Why is there such difficulty in encouraging people to play a greater part, to give more and to get more involved with the NHS in a way that the Government are refusing to do at the moment?

I agree with the noble Lord that it is a gift. I also absolutely understand the sentiment behind what he is saying, which is a desire for people to contribute back to the NHS not just through the tax system. It is important to point out that there are more than 250 NHS charities, with an annual income of £400 million. One of the other great gifts we have in this country is people’s willingness to donate time and money not just to the NHS but to a range of health causes. So we do provide an opportunity for that and those gifts are supported by gift aid. With regard to itemising the bill, we worry about deterrence. Many users of the most expensive health services are older people. Itemising a bill could put some of them off and that would be the wrong thing to do.

My Lords, I am pleased that the Minister has acknowledged the great contribution made by charities, but is he aware that councils are also providing a lot of care for people in need, both pre hospitalisation and post hospitalisation, but that they cannot use gift aid in any way? Will the Department of Health liaise with the Treasury to see whether there is some way that special council funds could be set up, where you could make a charitable donation? Gift aid is a great attraction. Yesterday I got a letter asking me whether I would like to give something to my council. I would not give anything unless it had gift aid—so it seems that we are missing an opportunity there.

My noble friend makes an important point. Gift aid is a wonderful scheme that obviously has driven huge contributions. She is quite right that public sector bodies cannot provide the gift aid opportunity, which is why in the health sector those charities attached to hospitals exist. She makes an excellent suggestion for what councils should do and I shall take it up with my colleagues in that department.

Can the Minister tell the House whether integrated care trusts can have associated charities so that people can make donations not just to healthcare but to social care in their area?

The noble Baroness asks a very interesting question. Clearly these are emerging organisations and most of the charities are attached to hospital trusts—although not exclusively: some are attached to primary care. None of these are yet quite in being. Once they are in being, this will be an excellent suggestion that we should take forward.

My Lords, can the Minister explain why we should not at least be clearer about what care costs by publishing the tariffs within hospitals so that people understand, if not individually, how expensive some of the day-to-day treatments they get are?

That is an important point. We are not yet in a position where we have mandatory collection of all that unit pricing data. That will happen from the next financial year onwards, so we will be able to publish that data. It is important, though, to resist the urge to send out to people information itemising costs, precisely for the deterrence reasons that I mentioned.

My Lords, we can all agree that the National Health Service being free at the point of use is probably the single most valued thing about it for everybody. Personally, I would not want to see that changed or compromised in any way. However, despite the Minister’s reasonable point about putting people off, does he not think that it would help people to value the health service more if they better understood the real cost of what it takes to treat what are in some cases quite minor ailments? Further, could it not help with the pressure on GPs to overprescribe certain drugs, the use of which we would really do well to reduce?

I think we are getting to a sensible position here: we want that transparency about what things cost in general, but not specific to each patient because of the concern that it might put people off. There is a lot more information available now than there ever has been about what items cost. What is critical—what we have learned—is that when people miss appointments, for example, which costs about £1 billion per year, there is a good opportunity to demonstrate what that cost is. But as regards what they incur as they go through the experience of healthcare, we worry about the deterrence.

In his Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, my noble friend said that older people might be put off. Speaking as an older person, from what might I be put off by information after I have had a procedure or treatment as to what it cost? In the same supplementary, may I ask that when my noble friend comes to remind younger people about not turning up for their appointments, he should send them a note of the cost of that as well?

I reassure my noble friend that I am not trying to make an ageist point. The point I was trying to make is that the majority of healthcare costs in a lifetime occur at two points in life: in younger children and in older age. We effectively have an insurance system where we pay through our tax and use the care when it is needed. The concern is that at a point in life when people might be vulnerable and not have support around them, and not necessarily know what is required in complex care, having had the facts about one piece of care they may feel that they should not be creating a burden on society by asking for more care. I do not think that is the right approach.

My Lords, will the Minister make it quite clear—loud and clear—that virtually every hospital trust has its own charity and indeed that many individual wards have one?

That is precisely the point. Any of us who have spent time in hospital will know that those charities are well advertised. As I say, they have £400 million of income, which I think makes them second only to cancer research in terms of income for health charities. I agree that they are a real asset to our health system.

My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, because he talked about the National Health Service being a right but also said that we have individual responsibilities. Is it not time to put much greater scrutiny on the issues of not only missed appointments but the abuse of health tourism and the Friday night nightmares of people who turn up at A&E not sick but overindulged, and expect the taxpayer to help them out?

My noble friend is quite right—we of course have a responsibility to use this precious resource responsibly. On health tourism, we have introduced a number of changes to recoup the amount of money spent on non-UK citizens who have not contributed to the tax system. We have made good progress on that. I take his point on alcohol, which we are dealing with in a couple of ways. One is obviously by taxing alcohol through the tax system but we also have to do much more preventive work so that people drink less.