Despite frequent reports of its faults and failings, the British NHS remains one of the top healthcare systems in the developed world.
That’s according to a new report published by the Commonwealth Fund which rated the healthcare systems of 11 countries – the USA, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
It ranked the UK in first place overall, saying that it achieved “superior performance” in almost all areas of its operation when compared to the other countries in the study. Other high performing countries were Australia and the Netherlands, while the USA fared poorly, especially given the high levels of spending on healthcare there.
The report measured performance of healthcare systems across five key areas – care process, access, administrative efficiency, equity and healthcare outcomes. While no county was top across all these areas, the UK scored highest overall and was top-rated in two of the areas, ‘care process’ and ‘equity’.
‘Care process’ encompasses the four areas of preventive care, safe care (free from medical, laboratory or administrative errors), co-ordinated care and patient engagement and preferences. The ‘equity’ category measures the level of performance compared to a patient’s economic status, in other words, that people on low incomes can expect the same good standards of care as those on higher incomes.
Only in one category – health care outcomes – did the UK fare relatively poorly, placing 10th out of the 11 countries in the study. This category contrasts the health and mortality rate of the general population (and those within specific disease groups such as cancer, stroke and heart attack) with the performance of the country’s healthcare system.
In other words, despite having the top performing healthcare system, people in the UK have poorer health outcomes and higher mortality rates than those in most of the other 10 countries. This could be linked to social factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise and abuse of substances such as alcohol and tobacco.
Commenting on the report’s findings, a spokesman for the NHS said: “This international research is a welcome reminder of the fundamental strengths of the NHS, and a call-to-arms in support of the NHS Forward View’s practical plan to improve cancer, mental health and other outcomes of care.
“None of the 11 countries examined in the report are ranked first consistently across all measures used. While the UK comes first overall, there is room for improvement in health care outcomes – this is despite the report noting the UK experienced the fastest reduction in deaths amenable to health care in the past decade.
“The health service plan, Next Steps on the NHS Five Year Forward View, was published in March and sets out how we will deliver practical improvements in areas prized by patients and the public – cancer, mental health and GP access – while transforming the way that care is delivered to ease pressure on hospitals by helping frail and older people live healthier, more independent lives.”
• Established in 1948, the NHS was designed to create “comprehensive health and rehabilitation services for prevention and cure of disease”. Health Minister Aneurin Bevan said the NHS had three core principles at its heart: that it meets the needs of everyone, that it is free at the point of delivery, and that it is based on clinical need and not the ability to pay.