The UK Health System

The RJ&AH Orthopaedic Hospital in Gobowen is renowned worldwide for the superb quality of its care and outcomes. In contrast newspaper headlines in recent months have been hard to ignore: our infant mortality rates, where it is safer to have a baby in Estonia; the difficulty of getting the medication or treatment you want; the shocking and unacceptable deaths in Mid-Staffordshire. There appears to be a contradiction. Many people will be effusive in their gratitude for the NHS in public – even writing to their local papers - yet still I receive letters with shocking reports. Outcomes appear to vary.

This led me to launch a simple comparison carried out by UK 2020, my think-tank. The data collected is drawn from across the world to compare the health outcomes of the NHS with those of leading developed countries. The findings and figures are shocking. The new report reveals that annual avoidable deaths from common serious diseases, such as breast, prostate cancer and stroke, are over 46,000 higher in the UK than in countries with the best health outcomes for each condition.

The Editorial Board agreed that expecting us to be best in every category was unrealistic and so the report compares us against the 12th best in health outcomes, yet still 17,000 people die.

Using the survival rates of each condition from the 12th best performing country, and applying those to our own mortality rates, we have learnt shocking findings, for example 3,200 die each year from bowel cancer who would not have died if they lived in the Netherlands. 3,000 die from a stroke who would not have died if they lived in Switzerland.

On many conditions, the UK is outperformed by countries that we might hope to do as well as, or better than, such as Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Malta, the Netherlands, and Sweden. And we are also outranked in a variety of conditions by countries that may come as a surprise, such as Chile, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Turkey.

UK health spending has increased each year since 2005. If it was just a question of spending why do countries who spend less than or close to the same as we do on healthcare – Australia, Finland and Israel for example – still outperform us on many conditions?

I have called on the Government to set up an urgent inquiry to examine the poor performance of the NHS compared to countries with similar health systems offering universal access, and to identify lessons that can be learnt on funding and delivery of the UK health service. UK 2020 intends to do more research making positive recommendations which will bring our health outcomes up to the best in the world.