UK health service lagging behind other high-income countries

  • Dawn O'Shea
  • UK Professional News
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The NHS shows pockets of good performance, but spending, patient safety, and population health are all below average when compared to nine other high-income countries, according to a study published in the BMJ this week.

The observational study used data from key international organisations such as Eurostat and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to compare healthcare systems in the UK, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US.

The data revealed that the UK spent the least per capita on healthcare in 2017 compared with all other countries studied (UK 8.7% of GDP vs study average of 11.5%).

The number of practising physicians in the UK in 2017 was 2.8 per 1,000 population. This compares to a study average of 3.5 doctors per 1,000. The figure is also lower than both the OECD and EU averages (3.4/1,000 and 3.5/1,000, respectively).

The UK performed slightly better than the study average for postoperative pulmonary embolism after hip or knee replacement (UK, 316 vs study average, 330; OECD, 286; EU, 246/100,000 discharges), postoperative deep venous thrombosis (UK, 202; vs study average, 489; OECD, 347; EU, 351/100,00 discharges), and the prevalence of healthcare associated infections (UK, 5.2% vs study average, 6.6%). However, rates were higher for postoperative sepsis after abdominal surgery (UK, 2,454 vs study average, 2,058; OECD, 1821; EU, 1,949/100 000 discharges).

Commenting on the findings, the authors said: “This work suggests that although the NHS has done a remarkable job in managing the constrained funding environment, the broader challenges are such that if the UK wants an NHS that remains high performing and a nation with good health outcomes, it will almost certainly need to spend more on healthcare staffing, long term care, and other social services, which lag behind comparators.”