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NHS behind the pack in treating common causes of death and ‘no longer envy of the world’

The UK is falling behind other developed countries in its treating of common diseases and has fewer doctors, nurses, and clinical equipment than industry leaders, a report released today has claimed.

Analysis from the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation found that the NHS performs worse than average in the treatment of eight out of 12 most common causes of death, including heart attacks and all major cancers.

Furthermore, the nation’s health service was the third-poorest performer compared to the 18 developed countries on the overall rate at which people die when successful medical care could have saved their lives.

Death rates for newborns were also higher than elsewhere, with seven in 1,000 babies dying at birth (or in the week afterwards) in the UK, compared to an average of 5.5 across rival healthcare systems.

Slightly-below-average funding compared to other developed countries has resulted in the UK having fewer beds per person than 16 of the 18 developed healthcare systems, and the lowest number of CT and MRI scanners.

Despite these shortcomings, the analysis showed there were some definite strengths, including the provision of strong financial protection to patients after falling ill; the UK’s health system held the lowest proportion of people who skipped medicine due to cost – just 2.3% compared to the average 7.2% across comparator countries.

“The NHS has definite strengths relative to other health systems. It provides unusually good financial protection to the public from the consequences of ill health; it appears to be relatively efficient; and it performs well in managing some long-term conditions. It does all this with an unusually low level of staffing and, in at least some categories, equipment,” the report wrote.

It went on: "On an overall view it is also hard to argue that it remains the “envy of the world”, as Aneurin Bevan, its creator, said in an age when far fewer other countries had universal health coverage. The reality is that the NHS is not doing as well as its counterparts at saving the lives of patients with many of the most common and lethal illnesses.

“However, the NHS does not have especially good outcomes relative to other wealthy countries. For the most important illnesses in directly causing death, it is a consistently below-average performer.”

Last week a massive nine in 10 of the population felt the NHS could be “at risk of collapse” if funding remained the same over the next five years. In May research claimed the NHS cannot replace “tatty” and broken-down equipment due to lack of funding.

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said: “Discussion about the NHS is often marked by an unhelpful degree of exaggeration, from those that claim it is the envy of the world to those who say it is inferior to other systems.

“The reality is a much more mixed picture, but one thing is clear: we run a health system with very scarce resources in terms of staff and equipment and achieve poor outcomes in some vital areas like cancer survival.”

The findings were compiled by think tanks the Nuffield Trust, Health Foundation, Institute for Fiscal Studies and King’s Fund.

Top image c. Sean Dempsey, PA Images


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