Unbiased Analysis of Today's Healthcare Issues

Health Care Around the World: Great Britain

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Apr• 23•08

Great Britain represents all that is good and bad with centralized, single-payer health care systems. Health care spending is fairly low (7.5% of GDP) and very equitable. Long wait lists for treatment, however are endemic and rationing pervades the system. Patients have little choice of provider and little access to specialists.

Percent Insured. ~100%

Funding. Great Britain has a single payer system funded by general revenues. With any centralized system, avoiding deficits is difficult. In 2006, Great Britain had a £700 million deficit despite the fact that health care spending increased by £43 billion over five years.

Private Insurance. 10% of Britons have private health insurance. Private health insurance replicates the coverage provided by the NHS, but gives patients access to higher quality care, and reduced waiting times.

Physician Compensation. Unlike in the case of other single payer systems such as Norway, most physicians and nurses are mostly government employees. In 2004, the NHS negotiated lower salaries for doctors in exchange for reduced work hours. Few physicians are available at night or on weekends. Because of low compensation, there is a significant shortage of specialists.

Physician Choice. Patients have very little physician choice. However, under the experimental London Patient Choice Project, patients waiting more than six months for treatment will be offered a choice of four different treatment providers.

Copayment/Deductibles. There are no deductibles and almost no copayments except for small copayments for prescription drugs, as well as for optical and dental care.

Waiting Times. Waiting lists are a huge problem in Great Britain. Some examples: 750,000 are on waiting lists for hospital admission; 40% of cancer patients are never able to see an oncologist; there is explicit rationing for services such as kidney dialysis, open heart surgery and care for the terminally ill. Further, minimum waiting times have been instituted to reduce costs. “A top-flight hospital like Suffolk Est PCT was ordered to impose a minimum waiting time of at least 122 days before patients could be treated or the hospital would lose a portion of its funding.”

Benefits Covered. The NHS system offers comprehensive coverage. Because of rationing, care might not be as easy to get as advertised. Terminally ill patients may be denied treatment. David Cameron has proposed that the NHS refuse treatment to smokers or the obese (see 7 Sept 2007 post).

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