Challenges abound as the NHS tries to recover before UK citizens move to private insurance; some patients have wait times of up to six months for a histopathology diagnosis of cancer
Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) is in dire straits. The UK’s vaunted state-run healthcare system is overrun with appallingly poor conditions, impossibly long wait times, diminished care, and multiple walk-outs in various medical fields that Dark Daily reported on last week in “British Junior Doctors Stage Four-Day Walkout Demanding Increased Pay and Better Working Conditions.”
As we noted, thousands of clinical laboratory tests and surgical pathology readings had to be delayed or cancelled due to the strikes.
An NHS worker in a Liverpool hospital told CNN that conditions felt like a “war zone” with patients being treated in the backs of ambulances, corridors, waiting rooms, cupboards, or not at all since hospitals are well over capacity.
As a result, UK residents are increasingly bypassing the long wait times for the NHS’ “free” healthcare and instead paying out of pocket for private health insurance, CNN reported in “Why is Britain’s Health Service, a Much-loved National Treasure, Falling Apart?”
“Those who can afford to get private insurance are,” Chris Thomas (above), told The Guardian. Thomas is Head of the Commission on Health and Prosperity for UK progressive policy think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). “People are not opting out of the NHS because they have stopped believing in it as the best and fairest model of healthcare,” he said. “Rather, those who can afford it are being forced to go private … and those without the funds are left to ‘put up or shut up.’” (Photo copyright: Institute for Public Policy Research.)
Two-Tier System Could Become UK’s Norm, Dividing Classes
The drive towards private insurance is leaving Britain on the brink of having a “two-tier” system where the NHS is overpowered by private healthcare. And it’s not an unwarranted fear. One in six people in Britain are prepared to use private healthcare instead of waiting for the NHS, The Guardian reported.
A report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) claims a UK two-tiered system would not mimic what we have here in the US. Rather, if the trend continues in the private direction, it would more likely be comparable to dentistry in England, “… where poor NHS access exists for some and superior but expensive access exists for many. We stand at the precipice of a growing ‘opt-out’ by those who can,” according to the IPPR report, The Guardian noted.
More importantly, this could further divide classes. “Such a trend could threaten the deep and widespread public support for the NHS among voters and leave millions of patients vulnerable because of their ethnicity, postcode, income or job,” The Guardian noted the IPPR report as saying.
In an op-ed she penned for CNN, titled, “We Can Barely Breathe. How Did Britain’s Treasured NHS Get So Sick?” Internal Medicine Junior Doctor for NHS in South East England, Roopa Farooki, MD, described the conditions her son witnessed when he arrived at her ER with a shoulder injury on one of her days off.
“It’s different when you see your everyday reality though naïve eyes. He saw the elderly patients on the jigsaw of trolleys crammed into the department, pushed against the wall, squeezed in the gap between the bed and nursing stations.
“He saw the fluids hanging from rails where we had no stands, lines running into the patient’s forearms. He saw the oxygen fed into their noses from cylinders propped along the bed, the cacophony of beeping machines and alarms.
“It doesn’t look like it does on the TV. It doesn’t even look like it does on reality TV,” she wrote.
The healthcare statistics are alarming. According to CNN:
- There was a 20% increase in excess deaths the final week of December 2022, compared to the previous five years.
- Half of patients waiting for emergency care that month waited for more than four hours, which was a record.
- Also in December, 54,000 people waited more than 12 hours for emergency admission. The wait was “virtually zero” prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- And “category 2” conditions, such as a stroke or heart attack, had a more than 90-minute wait time for ambulance attendance. The target response time is 18 minutes.
Dim Hopes for Improvement
Though the NHS has struggled in recent years, the challenges are seemingly worse now. “This time feels different. It’s never been as bad as this,” gastroenterologist Peter Neville, MD, a consultant physician who worked with the NHS since 1989, told CNN.
CNN noted that a perfect storm of challenges might have brought the NHS to where it is today. COVID-19, flu seasons paired with COVID, lack of financial support, lack of social support, staffing and morale issues are just some of the problems that the NHS must address.
Experts point out that as the NHS’ struggles increase so begins a loop where one problem feeds another. Patients who wait to be seen have treatments that take longer, then they get sicker, and the cycle continues.
Despite having one of the highest proportions of government healthcare spending on Earth, up to 40% of Britons report having accessed or plan to access private care, Breitbart reported.
Sadly, it’s unlikely enough cash will come in from the UK government to make significant improvements for the NHS. The budget announcement in November showed the NHS was to get an average 2% spending increase over the next two years, CNN reported.
Are there lessons here for US hospitals, clinical laboratories, and pathology groups? Perhaps. It’s always instructive to see how our fellow healthcare providers across the pond respond to public pressure for more access to quality care.
—Kristin Althea O’Connor