- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2011

LONDON — When David Evans needed a hernia operation, the 69-year-old farmer became so alarmed by the long wait that he used an ultrasound machine for pregnant sheep on himself, to make sure he wasn’t getting worse.

After repeated calls from him, his doctor and his local member of Parliament, a hospital performed the surgery, nearly a year after he asked for the operation.

Under government guidelines, he should have started getting treatment within 18 weeks.

“I was in quite a lot of pain,” Mr. Evans said of his ordeal in Cornwall in southwest England. “It really restricted what I could do around the farm since I couldn’t lift anything heavy.”

Across Britain, an increasing number of patients like Mr. Evans are facing more pain and longer waits because the National Health Service is being forced to trim $31 billion, or 20 billion pounds, from its budget by 2015.

St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington is where Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. An undisclosed number of hospitals are scheduled to be shut down. Rumors say St. Mary's will be one of the facilities to go. (Associated Press)
St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington is where Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. An ... more >

The cuts are part of the most radical changes made since the system was founded more than 60 years ago.

Many hospitals are saving money by raising the threshold for who qualifies for treatment and extending waiting times for non-lifesaving surgeries.

In January, the government introduced a new health bill that could bring deeper cuts and competition from private providers.

The bill would ax more than 20,000 health jobs in the next two years and shut an undisclosed number of hospitals, possibly including the iconic St. Mary’s in London, where Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.

The medical profession is outraged.

“The government is wrong to ask us to cut 20 billion pounds because the pressure on the entire service is rising and with the expense of new drugs and treatments. It’s impossible,” said Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians.

“We’ve seen waiting lists go up, signs that [hospitals and doctors] are trying to prevent patients from going to [the] hospital,” he said. “I think it’s immoral.”

All of the top medical organizations are opposed to the health bill. The British Medical Association warned more competition means providers could choose only to offer profitable services rather than what patients need.

Prime Minister David Cameron even had to halt the bill’s progress in April to conduct a six-week “listening exercise” to get input from hostile health professionals.

While the bill still has several hurdles to clear, the government plans to put the first major changes into effect in April.

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