NHS crisis risks becoming an existential threat to what was once the world's best healthcare system – Scotsman comment

For years, the NHS has been lauded as one of the best healthcare systems in the world.

The NHS has reached a significant fork in the road (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
The NHS has reached a significant fork in the road (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

However, in August, the Commonwealth Fund think tank, which had ranked the health service in first place in a comparison of high-income countries in 2014 and 2017, published its latest analysis. Overall, the NHS had slipped to fourth out of 11 and, alarmingly, ninth in terms of health outcomes.

The Covid pandemic, a recruitment crisis exacerbated by Brexit, and relatively modest funding have combined to bring the NHS to a significant fork in the road.

Staff are under pressure like never before with Scotland’s former Chief Medical Officer Professor Harry Burns writing in The Scotsman that many senior consultants are quitting their jobs in their mid-50s largely because of disillusionment with the job and for the sake of their health and well-being. Meanwhile, some of the junior doctors who would normally be expected to replace them are struggling to get the time to do the necessary training.

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As demoralised staff leave, increasing the pressure on those who remain, public dissatisfaction with waiting lists and, in some cases, verbal abuse appears to be growing – despite increasing pleas from the likes of the British Medical Association for the public to treat them with respect.

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The scandal over hospital-acquired infections at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow clearly should not have happened, but there is a risk that justified criticism of such appalling incidents feeds into this general mood. And if staff are being pushed to breaking point, then it seems likely that other problems will emerge.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the UK spends $5,267 per person on healthcare, public and private. This compares to the combined US figure of $10,948.

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So perhaps we now need to make a choice about the way ahead: reduce our demands on the NHS or start paying more. But, whatever path we choose to take, it seems clear that the NHS is in a crisis that cannot be allowed to continue and that the health service needs genuine friends – willing to do more than just applaud on doorsteps – now more than ever.

If we do nothing, the problem risks becoming an existential one for what was and should be again the best healthcare system in the world.

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