Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has warned that National Health Service cuts brought about by the competitive system could compromise the quality and centrality of patient care.
R Williams who is the head of the Church of England suggested that "short-term economics" threatens to undermine the service delivery, and this could put vulnerable people at particular risk. While addressing a congregation gathered for the annual Florence Nightingale Commemoration at Westminster Abbey he stated that "accountability and accountancy" might have become confused in the NHS. He added that false and destructive models of what counts as meeting targets have distorted a good deal of the practice.
He told representatives of the nursing profession gathered for the service there were already concerns that the budget-driven approach of some trusts was having a detrimental effect both on staff and patients. And he even warned that in a budget-driven service staff could feel "subtle pressures" towards helping expensive and resource-intensive terminally ill patients to die.
He said: "A target-obsessed NHS, managed with an eye to brisk traffic through its beds and reduction of expense, doesn't feel a very good place in which to have a reasoned and balanced discussion of assisted dying." He continued by stating that "Once we let go of the principle that everyone deserves care and respect, we are in uncharted territory, and if there is ever what looks like a short cut in dealing with the terminally ill or even the outstandingly inconvenient, resource-intensive patient, we have to face the possibility of any number of subtle pressures that may be at work in favour of assisted dying... These are pressures upon the patient - but they are also pressures on the carers, the front-line agents of support."
The Archbishop explained that respect for the individual, needs to be at the heart of the public health service in its care for patients. In his sermon he told the representatives of the nursing profession that some management styles cause risk compromising the primary duty of the NHS to care for patients.
He said that the NHS Trusts vary enormously, but there is enough around whose style of management seems to be driven by the short-term economics to give any real concern. He suggested that, if nurses and other staff were not treated with dignity, then there was little hope that they would get help to treat patients with dignity.
The Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon clearly seemed to touch a number of controversial current issues in public life. The UK government's Department of Health quickly issued a statement in which it said targets helped to save lives, They said that last year, the NHS had treated more people, faster and better than ever before and saved more lives than ever before.
The authorities announced that dignity, respect and putting patients at the heart of all decisions are at the centre of all their policies, so they said that they pretty much agree of what the Archbishop has said.