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Lack of investment in health infrastructure ‘threatens patient safety’

UK spends less on buildings, equipment and IT than other EU countries

A lack of investment in healthcare infrastructure in the UK is putting patient safety at risk, a think tank has warned.

Research by the Health Foundation suggests the UK is investing significantly less in healthcare capital – which includes buildings, equipment and IT – as a share of GDP compared to most other similar countries. As a result, the total value of capital in healthcare in the UK has fallen.

The value of capital per healthcare worker in the UK – which provides an estimate of the resources available to staff to deliver care to patients – has fallen by 35% between 2000 and 2017, while many other countries have seen significant and sustained rises over the same period.

Of the countries analysed, the value of capital per healthcare worker in the UK is the second lowest, above Greece, and only just over half the average value.

The analysis also shows the UK is investing less in equipment and machinery, which includes spending on medical technology, as a share of its total capital. The UK has the lowest value of machinery and equipment per healthcare worker, with countries such as Austria and Denmark having more than five times the value.

The Health Foundation argued patient care is being compromised following years of underinvestment in the NHS’s infrastructure. For example, the UK currently lags behind other countries for cancer survival and has the lowest number of CT and MRI scanners per capita among comparable countries – less than a third of those in Germany.

The think tank has calculated that, for England alone, bringing overall funding in line with the average would require at least £2.5bn extra every year on top of the existing budget for 2019/20.

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said the UK is trailing a long way behind its European neighbours in terms of the resources that enable doctors and nurses to deliver high quality, modern healthcare.

“Whether this results in hospital wards with leaks and broken windows, outdated IT or not having enough scanners to detect cancers earlier, this lack of investment ultimately threatens standards of care and patient safety,” she warned.

Nick Ville, director of membership and policy at the NHS Confederation, said the government needs to invest far more in NHS buildings and equipment now and over coming years, so that standards of care for patients can be improved.

“Not only is more money needed but key decisions on where it goes should be given to local areas, rather than being at the mercy of national or political determination,” he added.