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NHS means British healthcare rated top out of 11 western countries, with US coming last

Cost, efficiency and access to healthcare in Britain put it to the top of the pile, as Switzerland comes second and Sweden third

Natasha Culzac
Wednesday 18 June 2014 08:27 BST
Britain's healthcare system has been hailed as the best out of 11 western countries
Britain's healthcare system has been hailed as the best out of 11 western countries (Reuters)

Britain’s healthcare has been lauded as the best out of 11 of the world’s wealthiest countries, following a far-reaching study by a US-based foundation.

In a report entitled “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall,” the quality, efficiency, cost and performance of the US health system was compared to Canada and nine other countries in Europe and Australasia.

Conducted by The Commonwealth Fund, the report ranks the UK first overall, scoring it highly for its quality of care, efficiency and low cost at the point of service, with Switzerland coming an overall second.

The US came last, as it has done in four other editions of “Mirror, Mirror” since 2004.

The full list of countries analysed in the study - published yesterday - were: New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Britain and the US.

“The most notable way the US differs from other industrialised countries is the absence of universal health insurance coverage,” which is available in five other nations, the publication states.

It says that despite being the most expensive health care system in the world, the US continually underachieves “on most dimensions of performance.”

The UK came top in many of the seperate rankings (The Commonwealth Fund)

Click HERE for larger table

The compiled data was from the years prior to Obama’s flagship Affordable Care Act having been phased in, thus without the reverberations that are slowly being felt from it.

The foundation used information from its own 2011 national health system scorecard, as well evidence from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It also used 2011-13 policy surveys of patients and primary care physicians, who discussed their views on their countries’ health systems.

According to the study, the UK “outperforms all countries” in the management of chronic illness. “The widespread and effective use of health information technology (HIT) in the UK plays a large role in the country’s high score on the chronic care management indicators, as well as its performance on system aspects of preventive care delivery.”

Britain also apparently leads the way in stellar levels of patient communication, alongside Germany. This relates to whether patients reported that they always or often got a clear, understandable and timely response from their doctor.

Customer feedback was also something that the UK excelled in, with 84 per cent of physicians receiving patient satisfaction data, compared with 60 per cent in the US which ranked third in that category.

The results will be welcomed by pro-NHS campaigners and pressure groups, whose aims are to protect the National Health Service from sliding into private hands.

Barrie Brown, Unite's national officer for health, told The Independent: “That the NHS is the best healthcare system in the world, in sharp contrast to the wholly private US system, is testament to dedication of NHS staff who have continually put the patient first in the face of senseless reorganisation, mounting debt and real term pay cuts.

“The government’s race to sell off of the NHS to private business will destroy this incredible British achievement and put profits before people. The glow from the report will be very short-lived if we do not stop the sale of our NHS and value the people who do extraordinary things every day.”

The UK had the second-cheapest health expenditure on of the list, spending $3,405 per capita, compared with £4,495 in Germany or $8,508 in the US.

“Ten countries spend considerably less on health care per person and as a percent of gross domestic product than does the United States,” the report says.

The study adds: “These findings indicate that, from the perspectives of both physicians and patients, the US health care system could do much better in achieving value for the nation’s substantial investment in health.”

Britain slips up marginally on its “timeliness of care” and ranks a shocking second to last for the “healthy lives” indicator, which had looked at life expectancy, infant mortality and death rates for conditions treatable with medical care.

Contrary to popular opinion, the report claimed that it is a "common mistake" to associate universal health coverage with long waiting times for specialised care.

“The UK has short waiting times for basic medical care and nonemergency access to services after hours,” it says.

“The UK also has improved waiting times to see a specialist and now rates fourth on this dimension with the US ranking third.”

Overall, it was said that the UK provides “universal coverage with low out-of-pocket costs while maintaining quick access to specialty services.”

Paul Evans, director of the NHS Support Federation told The Independent: “It shows that the basic concept of the NHS not only works, it stands up well against all other systems.

“But within these results is a stark warning about opening up the NHS to the market and profit driven companies, like the US, as it is clearly not associated with care that is safe and effective for all.”

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