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NHS lags behind peers on cancer survival, staff and waiting times

NHS lags behind peers on cancer survival, staff and waiting times
A junior doctor holds his stethoscope during a patient visit at The Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital, operated by East Lancashire NHS Trust, in Blackburn, U.K., on Thursday, 14 May 2020. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters/Bloomberg)

The UK’s National Health Service has “strikingly low” levels of key clinical staff and worse health outcomes for diseases like cancer compared with other similar countries, according to a report.

While Britons receive relatively good financial protection from illness, the UK lags behind other nations on average health spending per person, capital investment and waiting times for routine procedures, research published on Monday from English health charity The King’s Fund found. 

The UK is also heavily reliant on foreign-trained staff and loses many of its nurses to other nations, particularly Australia and New Zealand. The author of the report looked at how the UK’s health system stacks up against 18 other countries, including the US, Germany, and Japan.

“We are in a deeply unenviable position in our staffing numbers,” Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst on the policy team at The King’s Fund and author of the study, said at a press briefing. “There are countries that have fewer nurses per head, there are countries that have fewer doctors per head — we have fewer of both.”

While the UK has an average rate of cancer cases, the five-year survival figures fall below other countries, notably in major cancers such as breast, lung and stomach.

The NHS is struggling with a lack of funds, an aging population and lingering fallout from the pandemic. The service, which celebrates it’s 75th anniversary next month, has also endured strikes of late by nurses, paramedics and junior doctors demanding higher pay and better working conditions.

The NHS has long been a battleground for politicians, and as the UK heads to the polls next year all the main parties are rallying to provide long-term plans and promises to voters aimed at reinvigorating the service. 

The UK government is expected to publish an NHS workforce plan in coming weeks with forecasts for the number of doctors, nurses and other professionals needed to maintain the service over the next five to 15 years.

The King’s Fund report, commissioned by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry though written independently, didn’t find that one particular country or model of health care performed consistently better than others. Nations generally provide better care by reforming their existing health model rather than adopting a new one, it concluded. DM


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