The UK has one of the worst healthcare systems in the developed world, says OECD report

Surgeons at Work

The UK’s National Health Service, once considered the envy of the world, now has an “outstandingly poor” record of preventing ill health, according to a new report.

Health at a Glance 2015, published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), ranks the UK behind much of the developed world for cancer survival, doctor/nurse to patient ratio, obesity and hospital bed availability. Some aspects of the NHS rank below the comparative services of many other western nations, including Greece, Turkey, Poland and Portugal.

The OECD provides international comparisons on an annual basis, with data relating to health status, risk factors, expenditure, access to care and quality of care. The 2015 report also details health system performance.

Chief Executive at the Nuffield Trust, Nigel Edwards, who helped launch the report which compares standards across 34 countries, says that 47,700 additional doctors and 26,500 nurses are required to bring the NHS up to match the staffing levels of other countries, with an annual price tag of £5billion.

While the report authors acknowledged that access to care in the UK is “generally good”, they describe the quality of care as “poor to mediocre” across several key areas.

UK rankings

The UK ranks third worst of 23 countries for cervical cancer survival, fourth worst for breast and bowel cancer survival and ranks fifth worst of 31 countries for stroke survival.

Echoing the recommendations of the World Health Organization’s recent European Health Report, the OECD also urges “urgent attention” be paid to the issues of smoking, high alcohol consumption and obesity if premature mortality is to be reduced.

The analysis also reveals that women in the UK may be dying earlier than in other western countries, with life expectancy at birth for women ranking 24th out of 34, while for men it ranks more favourably at 14 of 34 countries. The report acknowledges that, while survival rates for heart attack and stroke patients have improved, the UK still lags behind many other countries in this area, including Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Canada.

In his address at the report’s London launch event, Deputy-Director of the OECD’s Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Directorate, Mark Pearson says that that many NHS staff are simply too busy and do not have the time to orchestrate improvements to patient care.

He adds: “At the moment in the NHS I think there is the risk that people do not have the time to do that. What they are doing is going through the processes… rather than being a learning organisation, an organisation that can improve.”

Mr Pearson says that lower than average levels of public investment are reflected in what he describes as “mediocre performance across the board – from relatively low staffing levels, to high rates of avoidable admissions for asthma and lung disease”.

Budget shortfall

The OECD notes that the NHS has faced tight budget constraints over the past six years against a backdrop of concern that budget shortfalls will only continue to grow as the demand for health care exceeds available funding. NHS funding remained static between 2009 and 2013, and the report reveals that the UK is spending “considerably less” on health care than other western countries.

Nurse administering a vaccine

The OECD says health areas where the UK was found to offer quality provision include diabetes care, provision for patients with heart failure and for those requiring hip surgery following a fracture. The NHS vaccination service was also highlighted as worthy of praise, as was the UK’s numerous cancer screening programmes.

A Department of Health spokesperson says: “The OECD report shows there are many indicators where the NHS continues to be the envy of the world.

“We are making the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world which is why we have invested £10 billion to fund the NHS’s own plan for its future. We know there are areas where the NHS can improve which is why we have prioritised investment in the frontline and there are already more than 21,400 extra clinical staff, including 10,500 additional doctors and more than 7,600 additional nurses on our wards since May 2010."

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