NHS Given Mixed Bill Of Health In New Study Of International Healthcare Systems

The NHS is “neither a leader nor a laggard” when compared to healthcare systems of similar countries, though on some critical measures of resources and performance the UK is falling well-below average, according to a major new report from The King’s Fund.

The analysis of healthcare systems in 19 different countries finds that the NHS offers people good protection from the potentially catastrophic costs of ill health. The researchers also found that the UK health service is amongst the most efficiently run healthcare systems, for example by spending relatively little budget on administration and keeping medicines costs low.

But the UK has below average health spending per person compared to other countries and underperforms significantly on many key health care outcomes, including cancer survival rates and life expectancy.

The report, published ahead of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the NHS, shows that the UK has strikingly low levels of key clinical staff, with fewer doctors and nurses per head than most of its peers, and a heavier reliance on internationally trained staff. The UK has just 3 doctors per 1,000 people, while Greece has more than twice as many, with 6.3 doctors per 1,000 people.

The UK also spends less than many of its peers on physical resources such as buildings and equipment and comes bottom out of 19 countries for the number of CT and MRI scanners per person. The US has five times as many scanners per person and Germany has four times as many.

The report authors conclude that there is little evidence one individual country or model of health care performs consistently better than another across a range of performance measures. The report finds that countries raise their standards of health care mainly by reforming and improving their existing model of health care rather than by adopting an alternative model.

Other key findings include:
• Of the 19 countries assessed, the UK has amongst the lowest levels of life expectancy for men and women, with falls in life expectancy being particularly striking since the pandemic. Since 2020, only the USA has had consistently lower male and female LE than the UK. While life expectancy is determined by many more factors than just health care, the UK has higher levels of deaths from treatable diseases such as heart attack and stroke than the majority of its peer countries, and below average survival rates for many major cancers.
• The UK has relatively few hospital beds: 2.5 beds per 1,000 people compared to an average of 3.2, placing the UK second to last out of 19 peer countries
• The UK spends just 1.9% of health spending on administration; the 6th lowest out of all the countries measured. The proportion of admin spend is significantly lower than the United States, which spends 8.9% of health spend on admin and France which spends 5.5%.
• Relatively few members of the UK public have skipped seeking medical care due to cost and only a small number have trouble with medical bills, compared to other countries. Just 1 in 10 people think the cost of accessing treatment is a big problem.
• Waiting times in the UK for common procedures like knee, hip and cataract operations were broadly middle of the pack compared to similar countries. Like in the UK, many countries in the analysis had rising waiting lists before the Covid-19 pandemic, but the fall in planned operations like these was dramatically sharper in the UK in the first year of the pandemic.

Commenting on the research, Siva Anandaciva, Chief Analyst at The King’s Fund and author of the report, said:
‘As the NHS turns 75, the much-loved British institution has sadly seen better days. Whilst the UK stands out in removing most financial barriers to accessing health care and the NHS is run relatively efficiently, it trails behind its international cousins on some key markers of a good healthcare system. The pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic on our health service compounded the consequences of more than a decade of squeezed investment in staff, equipment and wider services that keep us well. This leaves the NHS delivering performance that is middling at best and the UK must do much more to reduce the number of people dying early from diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

‘Some may speculate that adopting an alternative funding model for the NHS would resolve these challenges. But we found little evidence that any one country’s model of health funding and delivery is inherently better than another. Equally, this is not an excuse to accept the current state of the UK health service. Working to improve our existing health system whilst providing it with the adequate resources, political support and long-term planning it desperately needs would give the NHS the best chance of delivering the timely, high-quality care and outcomes it is capable of.’

The independent report, which was commissioned by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, considers how the UK NHS compares on a broad range of measures to 18 similar higher income countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Japan, Singapore and the USA.1 The report authors drew on the latest available evidence to examine several measures2, including: the resources a health system has, such as funding, staff and equipment; how well the system uses those resources, for example efficiency, quality of care and health outcomes; and the wider context such as the health and behaviours of a country’s population.


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