It’s something that the British people are all too used to. Turning on the news to find another story about how the NHS is failing and is on its last legs. Whether that story is about long waiting times, failure to treat patients adequately or the low morale amongst staff we can still easily draw to the same conclusion. Our healthcare system is failing. So, it begs the questions, why have successive governments not made any much-needed reforms to our healthcare system and what reforms do we need to make?
When you look at the NHS and its history it seems to be always burdened with problems, from beginning to end. Even with one of our most left-wing prime ministers, Clement Atlee, compromises on complete free access to all types of healthcare had to be made after the first year where adult patients started being charged for spectacles and dentures. Since then, many elements of healthcare completely free at the point of use have been abandoned. However even as some treatments had to start being paid for or partly paid for by patients, there is still very little private sector involvement with the NHS, which has stopped competition from emerging for these products and services that patients have now started being charged for.
If you look at the NHS’s more recent history, the problems haven’t stopped. These problems have been apparent under successive government. In 2000 we had a winter crisis and the NHS didn’t have enough beds for patients, we then had a similar crisis in 2013 and more recently at the end of 2017 thousands of “non-urgent” operations had to be cancelled.
We have also seen the NHS’s failure when you compare it to other healthcare systems around the world. There have now been a number of reviews carried out by different organisations on how successful countries’ healthcare systems are. The NHS consistently ranks poorly in these reviews. For example, in the OECD report on different healthcare systems, the UK ranked below average. The World Health Organisation ranked the UK’s healthcare system 18th in the world behind countries like France, Switzerland and Singapore. The UK was ranked 14th out of 35 in the European Health Consumer Index 2017 report. Even in healthcare comparison reviews that the UK come out well in such as the Commonwealth Fund Study which ranked the UK 1st out of 11 countries, we still ranked poorly on the section about patient outcomes.
So, the question is, what is causing these bad patient outcomes in the NHS compared to the rest of the world? Many on the left would argue that the main problem with the NHS is the lack of problem but while extra money would help our healthcare system it is not solving the root of the problem and it is not the primary reason that our healthcare system is failing. Our healthcare system is still being funded more than the OECD average and, apart from 2010-11, the NHS has received an increase in annual funding consistently every year even when adjusting the figures for inflation.
While extra funding for the NHS would have some sort of a positive impact on our healthcare system it would not tackle the root of the problem. We need to look and learn from other countries and their healthcare systems. One healthcare system that Britain could switch to is the Singapore model. Singapore combines the free market healthcare that they have in America with the safety net of single payer universal healthcare that we currently have in the UK. We should be aiming to have a healthcare system that is competitive and has many healthcare providers while still protecting the universal healthcare rights of patients by ensuring subsidies from the government for those who cannot pay. We have seen the success that the Singapore healthcare system has had by their superior patient outcomes compared to the UK.
Singapore have a mix of public and private hospitals and GPs each competing with one and other to provide the best healthcare to attract people to use their service. Healthcare in Singapore is paid for by a combination of private health savings accounts and health insurance which creates a competitive system with multiple licensed healthcare providers which raises healthcare standards.
The Singapore healthcare model still upholds the principle of universal access to healthcare through its subsidies programmes which covers the costs for patients having more expensive treatments and covering the costs for those who cannot pay. This means that the poorest in society do not need to worry about money when they require medical treatment, a principle that should be upheld by every country.
In short, the NHS is failing. While other countries are seeing their healthcare standards and patient outcomes improve, the UK is lagging behind. Our current healthcare system, while meaning well, is ineffective, inefficient and uncompetitive. The UK can learn a lot from other countries and their healthcare systems. There are many models to the universal healthcare system and the UK should adopt one of these more successful systems. Adopting a healthcare system such as the one that Singapore has for example would hugely improve out healthcare standards and patient outcomes. We have seen how successful the Singaporean healthcare system is through numerous reports and reviews ranking them higher than the UK. Adopting this healthcare system would create a more competitive healthcare system which would raise standards and improve patient outcomes while still maintain the important principle of covering the costs for those who cannot pay, which would create the high-quality healthcare system that the British people deserve.