Great moments in UK dentistry, or not

Contrary to what Britons are all but indoctrinated to believe, the state-run NHS is not the envy of the world. Now, British dentistry has been castigated for falling to Third World levels

Dentist
Like pulling a tooth...
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Daniel J. Mitchell
On 5 January 2016 08:56

In 2009, Paul Krugman assured his readers that government-run healthcare was a good idea, writing that: “In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false.”

I guess one could argue that the determination of “scare stories,” like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. But if I was writhing in agony on a street because of a broken leg, I wouldn’t be happy with a healthcare system that told me I didn’t need an ambulance.

And if I was part of a system that rewarded hospitals for letting old people die, I might be tempted to say that was a scary system.

Moreover, I would be understandably irked if I was stuck with a system for healthcare that treated patients with callous disregard.

But if you’re wealthy and well-connected, then perhaps you don’t think these results are scary because you know you’ll always be able to jump the queue in a government-run system and get good treatment for yourself.

In any event, it’s not just the healthcare system that’s scary on the other side of the Atlantic.

report in the Telegraph paints a grim picture of dental care in the United Kingdom

"Dental health standards are falling to “Third World” levels in parts of England because of a crisis of access to NHS treatment, more than 400 dentists claim today.In a letter to The Telegraph, a coalition of professionals from across the country argues that the system is “unfit for purpose” with millions of people seemingly going for long periods without even seeing a dentist, or ignorant of basic dental hygiene.The signatories accuse successive governments of hiding the problem behind a veil of spin and denial.

"They point to official figures showing large numbers of primary school children having to be admitted to hospital to be treated for serious tooth decay and other dental problems, many of which, they say, could be easily prevented."

As you might expect, the bureaucracy claims everything is just fine.

"NHS England denied that there is a crisis…a spokeswoman for NHS England insisted: “These claims are wrong – more patients are getting the dental care they need, and 93 per cent of people got an NHS dental appointment when they wanted one in the last 24 months.”'

But the numbers tell a different story.

"NHS figures show that almost half the adult population of England (48 per cent) and a third (31 per cent) of children have not seen a dentist within two years. Crucially almost 62,500 people are admitted to hospital in England per year because of tooth decay – three quarters of them, or 46,400, children.

"…“The NHS dental system in England is unfit for purpose,” the dentists wrote. “Far from improving, the situation has worsened to such an extent that charity groups normally associated with providing dental care in Third World arenas now have to do so in England."

None of this sounds very good, though let’s acknowledge that the dentists in the U.K. are an interest group that presumably wants to get a bigger slice of government money. So they presumably would have an incentive to exaggerate the downside of British dental care.

But this underscores the problem with government takeover of a sector. Instead of a system of voluntary and beneficial exchange, you suddenly have a zero-sum, third-party-payer-driven system where consumers, providers, and taxpayers suddenly have an incentive to squabble.

P.S. For other U.K. “scare stories,” see hereherehereherehereherehere,herehereherehereherehereherehereherehere and here.

Daniel J. Mitchell, a long standing contributor to The Commentator, is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, the free-market, Washington D.C. think tank. His articles are cross-posted on his blog by agreement

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