More than just money: resource scarcity in the NHS of the future

It's not just a lack of cash that the health service will have to overcome, argues Ed Rowe

Recently I edited an article by Janet Richardson from Plymouth University on sustainability and resource management in the NHS, in the face of climate change.

The article, published in Nursing Standard, is succinct and to the point, and relates how nursing students and design students came together to work out potential solutions to resource scarcity. Professor Richardson envisages this as being the issue facing the NHS of the future - and perhaps not just the future, but increasingly in the present day. Professor Richardson tells us how Baxter Healthcare Limited issued a warning through the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency that it might not be able to supply sufficient equipment for dialysis machines following the disruption caused by the earthquake in Italy in July 2012.

This issue of resource scarcity is an important one. The point is, we can’t continue to live in our technological paradise forever. Life will, whatever climate sceptics fear, eventually become simpler, more difficult and, dare I say it, perhaps more worthwhile. We will have to communicate with our neighbours, we will have to collaborate, and we won’t be able to have papaya fruit whenever we like!

Instead, we will have to work with what we do have. Perhaps we will slow down, perhaps we will learn to live in harmony with our planet, and perhaps we will learn to live with less?

It would be better if that paradigm shift were to happen sooner, rather than later, of course. But it will happen at some point, whatever we do. And, unfortunately, the longer we leave it, the less likely it is to be manageable. There are already millions of displaced people around the world, millions of starving, disease-ridden people, frightened, in pain and dying. Those numbers are going to increase and, sadly, come closer to home.

The implications for health care are enormous. Just to take one small issue: prescriptions. How will we cope in a situation where medicines, even the simple, over-the-counter medicines that we take for granted today, are in scarce supply, or unaffordable?

Is this being alarmist? I prefer the word ‘realist’. The fact is that we are going to have to start planning health care for a radically different world. Professor Richardson’s article, describing a simple scheme to get students started thinking about resource use, provides a small but useful stimulus to that effect.

About the author

Ed Rowe trained at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London, in the late 1980s and practised in general surgery. He now works on the Nursing Standard’s art & science desk as a clinical editor and blogs in a personal capacity about health-related issues at http://livesintheirhands.wordpress.com/
Follow Ed on Twitter: @edrowe0

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