Price of good health too high for the poor

British men – at least those who benefit from the weekly
transfusion of a healthy wage – are living longer. A new European
league indicates that Britain is ahead of the Netherlands, France,
Denmark, Spain and Greece. Our men live, on average, to 76, a
six-year increase since the 1980s. Unless, of course, they are

It is a familiar story. Live in Glasgow and you forfeit a decade of
life. GP Ian Banks, president of the European Men’s Health Forum,
says: “The difference between the haves and the have-nots is
greatest in the United Kingdom. Men in the lower income groups have
not seen an improvement in their life expectancy for 30

Good health, of course, comes at a price. The National Consumer
Council (NCC) signalled in a report published last week, Creeping
Charges, how the poor are penalised because of the erosion of
eligibility for free care in the National Health Service while
existing charges are being increased.

NCC chairperson Deirdre Hutton said: “This is because there has
never been clarity about which services are core to the NHS and
which should be free.”

The NCC wants a “core services commission” to adjudicate on what
should be free and provide funding. At present, as many as 750,000
people fail to get all or part of a prescription because they
cannot afford to pay. Almost every part of the “free” NHS –
including dental and eye care – now appears to have a price.

A commission might have its uses but far speedier and more
efficient would be for the government to announce that anyone
earning less than, say, £15,000 a year, should be entitled to
all services without charge.

In a country as wealthy as the UK, it’s damning that we steal 10
years from a man’s life, simply because of the circumstances of his
birth and upbringing. A truly free NHS, alongside a decent level of
benefits, improved housing, better job opportunities and a more
flexible system of health delivery that reaches out to men instead
of waiting (sometimes for ever) for them to make a precautionary
visit to the doctor, would result in massive savings because large
slices of the health budget would no longer go to those made sick
by the lack of hope and income.

Half our men are dying prematurely – and we charge the poor. Does
it really make sense?

Creeping Charges is at

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