The National Health Service (NHS) provides healthcare cover for all United Kingdom (U.K) citizens based on their need for healthcare rather than their ability to pay for it. It is funded by taxes.
The NHS is overseen by the Secretary of State for Health and the Department of Health and reports to the Prime Minister. The Department of Health is responsible for:
- NHS and social care delivery
- Systems reform
- Funding and resources
- Strategic communications
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland run their NHS services separately to the U.K.
Introduced in 1948 by the Labour government (under then Prime Minister, Clement Attlee), the NHS was created a universal healthcare system. Prior to this date, many citizens feared ill health due to their inability to pay for care. At the time, this was deemed Britain’s greatest post-war achievement.
Despite increased funding by the government to support the NHS, it has been under immense pressure for a number of reasons. A criticism of the NHS was that the system had been designed to fail from the beginning. Many viewed the NHS as having made an error from the start, in building services around the treatment of patients rather than prevention. According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the UK spends an average of $4,192 per person under their universal health care scheme. With over 65 million people living in the UK, this care is expected to be provided despite a person’s income, employment status, address or any other factor. This NHS funding remains one of the most contentious issues in the UK at present, with many wondering how they will maintain the universal health care system at a time when costs and demand are rising.
Is the NHS in a state of crisis?
According to an article by Dr. Kailash Chand, an honorary vice-president of the British Medical Association and GP since 1983, he believes that the NHS has entered its worst crisis in his 70 year history. There is a chronic shortage of doctors, nurses, hospital beds, care packages for the elderly. There have been dangerous levels of safety for patients at a peak. The past winter had seen the NHS England cancel tens of thousands of hospital operations, creating the biggest backlog in the health care service’s history. Accident & Emergency (A&E) services now have a year-round permanent state of chaos, one that has previously only been confined to the UK Winters.
Why is the NHS in crisis and under threat?
NHS funding has been one of the most hotly contested topics between the British political parties, with them all wanting to know how to maintain a system of providing universal levels of health care amidst a time of rising costs and increased demand. Here’s a look at some of the main issues that plague the NHS and how its current model is coming under increased threat:
- Cost of funding: £140bn was spent on health last year across the UK. This figure is more than ten times the amount that was spent 60 years ago. The sheer scale of the costs of the provision of the NHS across the UK is breathtaking, with more than one million patients being seen on a daily basis, and 1.7 million people employed through the NHS. It should come as no surprise that the costs of running the NHS is eye watering.
- Key A&E targets are being missed: A&E services across the UK are in a constant state of chaos. According to a report by CNN, approximately 2 million people went to emergency rooms across England, with more than a quarter admitted, and 15% waiting more than 4 hours to be attended to. The goal of the NHS is for less than 5% of people to have to wait more than 4 hours. This is a clear sign of the current pressures placed upon the NHS services.
- The Ageing UK population: An ageing population is one factor which all health systems around the world is struggling with. As medical advances increase, it has allowed the population to live longer, thus placing extra pressures upon the health care system. When the NHS was first created in 1948, life expectancy was 13 years shorter than it is now.
- GP services: A pledge in 2017 to increase doctor’s training will not come to fruition. According to Dr. Chand, GP vacancy rates and closures of rural GP practices have remained high.
- Mental Health Services: funding for mental health services remain significantly underfunded. There have been more than 4,000 mental health beds closed down since 2010, with a similar number of psychiatric nurses being reduced. These numbers have still not been increased.
- Social Care Services: another failing of the NHS. A £2 pledge by the government to reverse £5 worth of funding cuts to the social services care has done nothing to alleviate the pressures on the A&E departments or GP services. A reliance is continued upon the more than 6 million unpaid social carers to maintain a flailing social care system.
What needs to be done?
The current failings of the NHS system across the UK has meant that a fear of becoming ill, has once again gripped the population of the UK. It is said that the current system must be overhauled from being a model of treatment, to being one of prevention. As stated by Dr. Chand, “Our NHS needs a new model of healthcare. It needs proper transparency and accountability. If politicians are to remain involved at the heart of the NHS, then it should be to ensure it gets the funding it needs, not to ready it for an insurance-based system.”