Time for the truth about the NHS

By October 29, 2016Public

By Judy Hobson

Hasn’t the time come for health journalists as well as politicians to come clean about the NHS and debunk the persistent myth that it is the best and only universal health service in the world?

The fact is that it has been underperforming since the 1990s and can no longer claim these titles.

The public deserves to know that the UK lags behind many countries in the provision of the care and treatment of patients with cancer, stroke and respiratory disease. As a result, there are more than 46,400 unnecessary deaths each year in this country – the equivalent of the population of the city of Durham – because the NHS fails to match the best outcomes from around the world.

Even compared against the 12th best, the figure is 17,000 avoidable deaths.

Staff working in the NHS and those of us who regularly write about it are already familiar with the struggle that both specialists and their patients face trying to access the best equipment and most up-to-date drugs.

Thanks to the publication of the UK Health System: An International Comparison of Health Outcomes, the evidence is there for everyone to see.

As Owen Paterson MP, chairman of UK2020, who commissioned the report says: “It should no longer be considered unpatriotic to criticise the NHS. We need to remove the muzzle so our politicians start speaking out instead of repeating the mantra that the NHS is the envy of the world.”

I agree with him that it is time to find out why our health outcomes fail to match others. Why, for example, you can get to see a hip or knee specialist in Germany within three weeks and be seen on average in an A&E department in that country within 10-15 minutes. Isn’t the fact that UK patients have difficulty getting an initial GP appointment contributing to late diagnoses of cancers?

What are other countries doing differently that allows their populations to experience better health outcomes?

To expedite matters and hopefully come up with some solutions, Mr Paterson is calling for an urgent inquiry.

For more information, log on to : www.uk2020.org.uk .

Judy Hobson

Author Judy Hobson

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Content Editor says:

    Is that cats and pigeons we hear? We suspect that there is universal agreement on the need to be honest about NHS funding, but far less agreement on causes and possible solutions to the current problems.

    What do other members think? Would you like us to organise a meeting to explore the opposing arguments and visions different political parties and groups have for the NHS?

    We should also add that all views expressed in blogs and comments are those of individual members and do not represent the position of the MJA.

  • Philippa Pigache says:

    Anyone wanting a fair assessment of why the NHS may not, by some measures, perform as well as other healthcare systems in Western Europe, will find it in this article from the Kings’ Fund:

    It’s the money stupid.

    In 2009 we spent 8.8 per cent of GDP compared to more than 10 per cent averaged in the rest of the EU (then 14 countries). Since then spending in the UK has fallen as a proportion of national income; and the gap has widened and promises to grow wider. It was just over 7 per cent in the year 2014/15 and will fall to 6.6 per cent in the year 2020/21. And this is based on calculations of UK GDP in terms that look optimistic in the light of the Brexit vote.

    The US is a totally different ball-game because its massive spend of nearly 20 per cent of GDP on health is nearly 50 per cent private spending, and even after Obamacare, only covers 85 per cent of the population.

    All things considered the NHS performs wonders on the funding it receives. Especially in the light of the fact that some of that expenditure goes on the artificial operation of a so-called ‘internal market’ that shifts tax-payer money from the treasury to the department of health.

  • Judy Hobson says:

    Lack of funding should not be continually used as an excuse but should rather act as a trigger for us to examine ways in which other countries fund their health care and to see what lessons we can learn from them. For example, is it time that we had a social insurance scheme where the money we pay in is ring- fenced for our care? Such a scheme works successfully in Singapore.
    Some argue that today calling the NHS national is a misnomer when the service is so fragmented. What treatment and support you receive often depends upon where in the country you happen to live. In 2016 the postcode lottery remains alive and well.
    Surely it is time the NHS was put under the microscope allowing economists together with medical experts to find a remedy suitable for the continuing care of our population in the next decade and beyond.
    Britain has a reputation for fair play but currently the playing field for some patients is far from level.

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