Public Health Care in UK Faces Major Problems

This week, a formerly secret plan by the National Health Service (the publicly funded health care system in the United Kindgom) to cut the health budget was revealed by The Daily Telegraph. The cuts were supposed to be announced in the fall after the elections, but members of the Conservative party believed voters deserved to know before the elections.

According to John Swaine and Holly Watt of The Telegraph, the new cuts will require 10% of staff being released in some places, as well as a decrease in beds and ambulance call outs. The goal is to save ₤20 billion (equivalent to about $29 billion) with the cuts. These come in the midst of a £167 billion dollar deficit in the United Kingdom.

A mong the cuts will likely be hip replacements. Patients will also be expected to communicate with their doctor by phone when they would normally visit him or her in the office. But the Department of Health stresses that the cuts will be attempts to improve efficiency and that no key services will be eliminated.

Britain’s public health system receives it’s funding through general taxation of the populace. Most services are provided free to the public. About 8% of the population uses private health care to mainly supplement the public service.

The NHS came under strong fire from many American commentators during the health care debate. But the NHS has ardently defended these attacks.

The media in the UK has also not been helpful for the NHS. A March 9th Daily Mail article revealed the results of a survey of 900 nurses. The article lists the many startling comments from nurses:

Elderly patients are ‘parked’ in day rooms while waiting to be transferred to another hospital, and left ‘soiled and neglected’, and ‘needing fluids’. Sometimes spare beds run out – and people have to sleep on chairs or mattresses on the floor. Nearly half the nurses said patients in non-clinical areas did not have proper access to water, oxygen, suction and a call bell.

Some of the blame for these care conditions is placed on the Labour Party’s new targets. Emergency rooms are pressured to treat patients in less than 4-hours, which means that patients may be taken out of the emergency department prematurely to meet the target.

The Daily Mail released another article “telling how Doris McKeown, 80, spent 48 hours in a supply cupboard while waiting for surgery…” Another Telegraph article detailed the appalling conditions in Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

More budget cuts certainly will not help the patient care problems in the NHS. Continuing developments in the British health care system will affect the summer elections in the UK and could still play a factor in the continuing US health care debate.

The new health care reform bill in the United States is still coming under fire for its actual cost. As with the Labour Party, the Democrats were under pressure to reduce the budget deficit with the reform bill. But David Brooks argues that the bill will actually cost much more than the Democrats claimed.

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