The British National Health Service (NHS) is unraveling. This month, authorities said they’d consider relaxing official targets for waits in the country’s emergency rooms. At present, the system aims to see and admit, discharge or transfer 95 percent of patients within four hours.
The NHS hasn’t been able to hit that target in years. Naturally, the solution to this problem is not to improve patient care but to get rid of the target.
Improving care is virtually impossible for the NHS. There aren’t enough doctors to meet patient needs. And the government is running out of other people’s money to spend on socialized medicine. Ever-longer waits for ever-poorer care are the result.
This is exactly what’s in store for Americans if progressive Democrats, led by the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, get their way and foist Medicare for All upon the United States.
To meet the demand for care, England needs about 10,000 additional doctors, 40,000 nurses and 50,000 other health care workers. There’s little hope of meeting that demand. About half of NHS doctors plan to quit, cut their hours or move abroad to practice in the near future.
British experts are calling this shortage of medical professionals a “national emergency” that puts patients’ lives in jeopardy. For every day a hospital experiences a shortage of registered nurses, a patient’s risk of death increases 3 percent, according to a Southampton University study.
That’s partly because strain on the system forces medical professionals to miss necessary training, speed through protocols or prioritize quick, band-aid fixes over long-term cures.
Frightening examples abound. In one case, medical staff started operating on the incorrect knee of a 69-year-old woman because they didn’t follow appropriate safety protocols. In another, an 86-year-old woman died because a feeding tube was placed in her lung instead of her stomach; the doctor had not been trained properly to correct the issue.
Unsurprisingly, 8-in-10 doctors believe the NHS doesn’t furnish sufficient resources to allow them to provide high-quality, safe care, according to a recent survey in the British Medical Journal.
Staff shortages are also forcing hospitals to turn away cancer patients. In November, one of London’s largest hospitals cut chemotherapy treatments because it didn’t have enough nurses. Some 500 patients received cancer treatments there last year.
Fewer doctors and nurses also means longer waits for treatment.
Wait times in the United Kingdom rose 40 percent between 2014 and 2018. The average wait for a hip replacement clocks in at four-and-a-half months. For a knee replacement, it’s nearly five months. That’s a lot of extra pain and anxiety, especially for patients who might not be able to walk or work at full capacity in the meantime.
In March 2018, 3.8 million patients were waiting for “non-urgent” treatments like hip and knee replacements. By September, 4.1 million patients were waiting.
Even the NHS’ buildings are degrading patient health: 9-in-10 NHS trusts run hospitals that have the carcinogen asbestos, according to a BBC investigation released in December.
British Prime Minister Theresa May recently vowed to increase NHS funding by $26 billion by 2023 in order to take on these problems. But doctors and health policy experts believe this won’t be nearly enough to do the job, much less keep up with rising demand. The NHS already faces a budget deficit of about $5.5 billion.
Despite this crisis across the Atlantic, socialized medicine is all the rage among progressive Democrats in the United States. The top contenders for the party’s nomination — including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Mr. Sanders — all support a government takeover of the U.S. health care system. House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth just asked the Congressional Budget Office for a report on options for implementing a nationwide single-payer system. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to hold hearings on Medicare for All.
The United Kingdom offers an unlimited array of evidence of the pitfalls of single-payer. The Brits may have given us The Beatles, David Bowie and David Beckham, but importing their brand of government-run health care is a bad idea.
• Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is “The False Promise of Single-Payer Health Care” (Encounter 2018).