Dear Chancellor, kindly prioritise the NHS so that we are not at the mercy of strangers with a spare room

Opinion piece

When London authorities took the decision of not renewing Uber’s licence last month owing to the company lacking a “corporate responsibility”, I believed the message was loud and clear — no more of careless tech behaviour and fixing of responsibilty.

But in the wake of recent trial announcements that NHS hospital patients could be recuperating in Airbnb-style accommodation, I feel it is my responsibility to remind the government how ‘healthcare’ has always been a service and not a transaction that ends with a review of the breakfast.

While Southend Hospital, which had initially been linked to the trial, has distanced itself from the idea following criticism by politicians and health groups, health minister Philip Dunne continues to re-affirm that he “wouldn’t immediately reject” this idea as “one’s got to trial different things”.

The fundamental premise of any welfare state, especially in the developed world, is that at least healthcare would be taken care by the state. But if the same government decides to toss such a sensitive and specialized area to the vagaries of gig economy, very less is left to the imagination then.

The pilot scheme, under consideration by NHS trusts and councils in Essex, will see some 30 patients staying in residents’ spare rooms instead of a hospital, while they wait to be discharged. The idea followed warnings about delays in discharges from UK hospitals.

Healthcare start-up CareRooms would reportedly recruit ‘hosts’ whose properties have spare rooms or annexes. Hosts would be required to provide the patients with their own separate bathroom, and earn a maximum of £1,000 a month.

While it is understandable that British government is on an ‘austerity drive’ and has reduced public spending over the past seven years to balance its books, but does that mean that anyone with a spare room and little training gets the license to keep my ailing grandmother? Absolutely not.

My issue is not with the idea of homeowners earning £1,000 a month by the NHS, but with the misplaced principles of safety and accountability, just like in the case of Uber. The health minister has stated that this trial would involve ‘people who may have had minor procedures who need a bit of help’ and could also include B&B owners who were already medically trained and could offer accommodation.

But who would be responsible if my loved one develops a medical complication or is abused at the hands of the host during the stay? Also, no one seems to be addressing the increasing staff vacancies and the “desperate” staff crunch in the NHS, which has soared by 15.8 per cent over the last year.

All this together is responsible for this colossal joke on healthcare services.

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