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UK’s National Health Service linked to earlier deaths: Study

HealthUK's National Health Service linked to earlier deaths: Study

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The NHS has come under increasing pressure over recent years due to higher demand for services and funding and personnel shortages — issues further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bloomberg | Getty Images

Chronic underinvestment in the U.K.’s National Health Service means Britons are likely to die sooner from serious diseases than patients in other rich nations, according to a new study.

The U.K. “performs poorly” compared to OECD nations on combatting conditions such as cancer and heart disease, resulting in higher-than-average rates for both preventable and treatable mortality, the report published Monday by the King’s Fund health think tank found.

Among the 19 countries studied, the U.K. was found to lag behind most of its peers on life expectancy, although the report notes that this is an issue significantly affected by factors beyond the direct control of any health system.

Britain’s “below average” healthcare outcomes are due to “below average” investment in physical resources, including Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners and hospital beds, low levels of clinical staff and being “heavily reliant” on foreign-trained staff, researchers found.

Poor remuneration for some groups of doctors and nurses — an issue which has led to months of industrial action within the NHS — was also cited as a reason for the U.K.’s lack of competitiveness versus peer countries such as Austria, Belgium and Germany.

75 years of the NHS

The findings come as the U.K. next month marks the 75th anniversary of the publicly-funded NHS, which was set up in 1948 by the post-war Labour government to make free healthcare accessible to everyone.

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The NHS has come under increasing pressure over recent years due to higher demand for services and funding and personnel shortages — issues further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A spokesperson for the U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care told CNBC that the government was investing £14.1 billion ($17.9 billion) to improve services and cut waiting lists. They added that “record numbers of staff were working in the NHS.”

The government is set to publish a workforce plan on Thursday to tackle ongoing staff shortages, which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Sunday would be “one of the most significant announcements in the history of the NHS.”

He added that delays in care provision, which are currently at record highs, were “because we’ve had a pandemic.”

King’s Fund researchers said that many of the issues identified in the report pre-date the Covid-19 pandemic. However, they said the crisis had “contributed to a toxic cocktail of pressures” on the health service.

Among the bright spots in the report, the U.K. was found to perform “relatively well” on some measures of efficiency and spending on administration.

U.K. patients were also said to receive relatively good protection from the potentially catastrophic costs of ill health, though that safety net was said to be “worryingly threadbare in some areas.”

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