The UK has an “outstandingly poor” record of preventing ill health according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The annual Health at a Glance report, which compares quality of care and spending by 34 countries, assessed the quality of NHS care as “poor to mediocre” compared to other developed nations.
According to the OECD, more than 25,000 more doctors and almost 50,000 more nurses are needed to match standards in similarly developed countries, at a cost of £5bn a year.
The UK currently lags behind other comparable nations in several key areas, placed a dismal 21 out of 23 countries on cervical cancer survival rates, and 20 out of 23 countries on breast and bowel cancer survival rates.
According to the report, spending on health is also lower in the UK than the OECD average, “Compared with other wealthy countries, the UK does not spend much on healthcare and, in terms of equipment and staffing, it shows.”
NHS funding remained static between 2009 and 2013 and spending per head on health is half that of Switzerland, Norway and the United States. At present, Britain ranks a lowly 28 out of 30 countries on resources that include staff, beds and scanners. There are only 6.8 CT scanners and 8.7 MRI machines per million people - less than half the OECD average - and just 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 of the population.
This report doesn’t exactly bathe our health service in the most flattering light. Instead, it rather disturbingly spells out what I’m sure most frontline staff have known for some time, that the NHS is crying out for more resources, equipment and staff and without more funding, the quality of patient care in this country will remain below countries such as Turkey, Portugal and Poland.
The Department of Health in response have mentioned the £10bn invested in the NHS along with the 10,500 additional doctors and more than 7,600 additional nurses who have joined the health service since May 2010.
These are all clearly positives but all of the factors mentioned in this report particularly in relation to the gulf in staffing levels, mean basic failings are still occurring. With regard to cancer, although screening rates for breast and cervical cancer are well above the OECD average and the number of people surviving the disease following diagnosis has risen over the last 10 years, UK cancer survival rates still remain in the bottom third of OECD countries. This needs to change.
Laura Craig is a clinical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
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