Denial continues amid latest evidence on Britain’s abysmal National Health Service

The OECD’s report provides shocking new data on Britain’s socialised health system but even the Conservative-led government wouldn’t have it any other way

Fit for purpose?
The Commentator
On 24 November 2011 09:31

The more you drill down into the latest report from the 34 nation Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on health care performance the worse it looks for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

In 2009, for the first time, the proportion of gross domestic product spent on health in Britain exceeded the OECD average. So, given that it is a received wisdom bordering on religious doctrine that Britain has “the best health system in the world” that inevitably means performance for patients is nothing short of outstanding. Or not.

In fact, in some areas the NHS is being outperformed by the formerly communist countries of central and eastern Europe none of which chose to emulate the British model when deciding which kind of health care system to adopt in the transition from communism.

As the report shows, 84 percent of health care spending in the UK comes from the state. The OECD average is 72 percent. Put another way, in the average OECD country the private sector is almost twice as big a player in health provision as in the UK.

And that, the evidence suggests, makes all the difference.

Try this, taken straight from the report’s key findings on Britain:

“The 5-year relative survival rate for breast cancer during 2004-2009 was 81%, up from 75% during 1997-2002, but still lower than the OECD average of 84%. For cervical cancer, it was 59%, also lower than the OECD average of 66%.

“And for colorectal cancer, the 5-year relative survival rate in the UK during 2004-2009 was 54% for females and 53% for males, compared with an OECD average of 62% for females and 60% for males.”

Cancer survival rates are now better in the Czech Republic and Slovenia than in Britain.

One might have thought that these appalling figures would give British politicians pause for thought. If an insurance based system of the kind adopted by many countries in Europe is providing better outcomes than the bureaucratic, state-dominated NHS surely it must have crossed somebody’s mind that it might be worth considering a radical change of course.

Not a bit of it.

A press release from the Department of Health on the OECD’s findings was bizarrely headlined: “International report confirms the NHS is performing well for patients.”

And while there was an admission that the NHS lags behind “on some patient outcomes for cancer, stroke and respiratory diseases despite spending more on healthcare than the OECD average” structural explanations for the system’s failings were ignored in favour of obfuscatory references to “increasing pressures on the NHS due to obesity and other lifestyle related diseases and long-term conditions.”

If you thought that represented the thinking of some left-wing bureaucrat charged with writing a press release, you’d be wrong. Here are the words of the Conservative Health Secretary Andrew Lansley extolling the virtues of socialised medicine in the wake of the OECD’s report:

“I’m passionate about the NHS and want to safeguard it for future generations. It is one of our most valued national institutions and I applaud NHS workers for their hard work, day in and day out.”

And then, in his next breath:

“But this report is further evidence of the need to modernise our health service. It clearly shows that although the NHS is doing well in some areas, it is still lagging behind other countries in some key areas of patient care.”

It’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.

British Conservative leaders remain in thrall to a failed left-wing orthodoxy while British patients die earlier than their counterparts across Europe.

Let’s just say we don’t think that’s good enough.

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