Tweet It is difficult to comment on the proposal that military veterans should receive priority for NHS treatment without accusations of not wanting to properly look after those who risk their lives, and suffer physical or mental injury, in the service of the state. The matter has almost become a bidding war between the Labour and Conservative parties as to which of them can be seen to be doing most to help ex-soldiers.
But the proposal does need to be properly examined and challenged, because raising the priority of one group inevitably means reducing the priority for others. If it does not have that effect, then it is effectively a meaningless promise; and if it does have that effect, then that should be spelled out, so that we all understand the impact of what is being proposed.
The principle on which the NHS is based is that treatment and support should be provided, first and foremost, on the basis of clinical need; the more urgent the need, the more priority the case should receive. So, if military veterans have the greatest need, they will be at the top of the list anyway; and if they don't, then other people with a greater need based on clinical assessment will be moved down the list to accommodate them.
The emotional case being made through the tabloids for doing more to help 'our brave servicemen and women' is a clear one, and easy to empathise with. But responding to that by pushing non-military cases down the lists - even if the need is greater, and the suffering more intense - is not something that I could justify supporting.
The real question is surely how we ensure that everyone receives the treatment and support they need, as and when they need it. In that case, adjusting the priorities between cases in response to headlines is avoiding the real issue.
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