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NHS ‘lagging behind’ other countries’ healthcare systems

Healthcare spend of £2,955 per person is far below the average

Patient safety, population health and spending in the UK’s health service are below average or average when compared with 10 other high income countries, a study shows.

The research by The BMJ compared the UK’s health system with that of Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US.

It found the UK spent the least per person on healthcare in 2017 at £2,955 – far below the average $5,700 for all the other countries studied.

Healthcare spending in the UK is growing at slightly lower levels at 0.02% of GDP from 2014-17 compared with an average of 0.07%. 

Meanwhile, although the UK has comparable numbers of people over the age of 65, it spends less of its already low total healthcare expenditure on long term care. A greater proportion of this comes from private sources than it does in other healthcare systems.

The numbers of healthcare professionals are some of the lowest of all countries studied – for example the UK has 2.8 doctors per 1,000 population compared with 3.5 study average. These numbers are also declining.

Waiting times and access to care in the UK compared favourably to other countries, but utilisation (number of hospital admissions) was lower than average.

The UK also had a slightly below average life expectancy of 81.3 years compared with an average of 81.7. It had the lowest survival rates for breast and colon cancer, and the second lowest survival rates for rectal and cervical cancer.

“Taken together, these results suggest that if the NHS wants to achieve comparable health outcomes at a time of growing demographic pressure, it may need to spend more to increase the supply of labour and long term care and reduce the declining trend in social spending to match levels of comparator countries,” the researchers said.