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08.05.18

NHS has one of lowest levels of doctors and nurses in western world

The UK has fewer doctors and nurses per head than almost any developed country, new figures have revealed.

The King’s Fund analysed data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), comparing healthcare spending across 21 countries.

According to the figures, the only country with fewer doctors and nurses per capita is Poland.

The UK has 2.8 doctors and 7.9 nurses per 1,000 population - both below the average for the countries looked at.

The average number of doctors per 1,000 population is 3.6, with Austria having 5.1 and the average number of nurses is 10.1. Switzerland has 18 nurses per 1,000 - over twice as many as the UK.

The UK also has fewer hospital beds per head than most other countries besides Denmark and Sweden, with 2.6 beds per 1,000, as well as fewer residential care beds.

Bed levels in the UK are similar to Canada and New Zealand, but well below the average of 4.4 beds per 1,000.

While lower numbers of hospital beds can be a sign of efficiency, the King’s Fund warns that the growing shortage of beds in UK hospitals suggests that “bed reductions in the NHS may have gone too far.”

However, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) argues that bed numbers are not an accurate marker for good care, with improvements in treatment meaning that good care does not necessarily require lengthy hospital stays.

In addition, the UK has fewer magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scanners in relation to its population than any country analysed.

Although they say the data should be treated with caution, the authors say that “it is clear that the UK lags a long way behind other high-performing health systems in investing in these important technologies.”

Under the OECD’s new definition of health spending, the UK spends 9.7% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care, which, while in line with the average among the countries looked at, is significantly less than countries such as Germany, France and Sweden, which spend at least 11% of their GDP on health care.

The Fund warns that this analysis reveals a picture of an under-resourced NHS compared to other countries and that it “lags a long way behind other high-performing health systems in many key areas of health care resources.”

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at the King’s Fund, said: “If the 21 countries were a football league then the UK would be in the relegation zone in terms of the resources we put into our healthcare system.

“The UK is consistently below average in the resources we give the NHS relative to countries such as France and Germany.”

A DHSC spokesperson said that an independent think tank had ranked the NHS as “the best and most efficient health service in the world.”

They added: “As this analysis shows - spending on the NHS is in line with other European countries but it fails to acknowledge that funding is actually at record levels - £1.6billion is being invested in 2018/19, on top of a planned £10billion a year increase in its budget by 2020/21, with an extra £2billion and a further £150million for social care this year.”

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