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25 June 2014

NHS: The world's best - but for how long?

Jackie Grunsell

The National Health Service (NHS) is the best healthcare system in the world!

Despite the constant propaganda of the Con-Dem government that our publicly funded health service is failing and must 'reform or die', the NHS has come top in a study by the Commonwealth Fund, (a well-respected Washington based research organisation) comparing eleven of the wealthiest countries in the world.

The NHS scored highest on quality care which is safe, effective, coordinated and patient centred, and on access to care regardless of cost.

Of the eleven countries, the UK spent the second lowest per capita on health care but was the most efficient and scored top for equity. The US on the other hand, spends the most on health yet came bottom of the eleven particularly for poor access, efficiency and equity.

In the past few years NHS staff have faced a barrage of attacks, being told they don't work hard enough or care enough. While there is room for improvement, the report confirms the benefits of a universal health care service, free at the point of use.

The report commended the NHS for providing universal coverage with low out-of-pocket costs while maintaining quick access to specialist services. The NHS also ranked highly in managing care of those with chronic health problems.

The worrying thing is that for all its benefits, the NHS may not be around much longer. The so-called 'funding freeze' imposed by the government is in reality a year on year cut in spending, with staff being told to find first 20 billion then an additional 30 billion in 'savings' by 2020.

The Nuffield Foundation has calculated the NHS faces a 2.5 billion shortfall in funding next year. Anyone working in or using the NHS knows the lack of funding is already a reality. Staff shortages and a summer 'A&E crisis' are signs the NHS is creaking under the pressure of trying to maintain care with shrinking resources.


Labour and Con-Dem governments have been taking our health care in exactly the direction proven not to work, ie moving towards the US model of for profit healthcare provision.

Encouraging, if not insisting, on the use of the private sector in health has diverted more and more money away from frontline services and into the pockets of private companies, which have seen an opportunity to rip off the NHS.

There is a growing realisation among some that this isn't sustainable. It costs us more but we get less of a service.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has managed to escape the crippling cost of a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme used to build Hexham General Hospital. By taking a loan from Northumberland county council to buy out the private consortium known as Catalyst, it will save around 3.5 million a year over 19 years, which the trust has pledged to put back into frontline services.

This example shows the outrageous cost of PFI. Hexham was one of the first, relatively small, PFI deals. Many trusts now have newer multimillion pound contracts to run for 20-30 or more years, leaching more and more money from NHS funds at a time we are told savings are essential.

In the Hexham buy out, the private contractors still made a huge profit from the deal. We demand all PFI contracts be returned to the public sector. This would save billions for use in NHS services allowing its status as 'best in the world' to be maintained and even improved on for the future.