Editorial

So much work to do to raise our game on health

Some issues refuse to go away: they are raised repeatedly, action is promised, not much happens, and they come round again. One such example arose last week when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a report comparing health services in a host of developed countries.

Some issues refuse to go away: they are raised repeatedly, action is promised, not much happens, and they come round again. One such example arose last week when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a report comparing health services in a host of developed countries.

The findings were much the same this time as they have been in previous versions. Access to care in the UK is good, quality of care uneven, although national media coverage inevitably highlights the underperforming areas. Many of the headlines written about this year’s report, Health at a Glance 2015, focused on its disappointing figures about cancer survival rates, for example.

Data on nurse staffing levels have changed little over the years. The UK consistently lags behind similar countries in relation to the number of nurses employed per head of population, to the point where we would have to take on almost 50,000 more just to bring ourselves up to the average.

These warnings are issued frequently, and the NHS finds a way to trundle on

Early in Tony Blair’s government, the then prime minister announced from a BBC TV studio that his administration would bring health spending in England into line with the average amount spent in comparable countries. At the time it looked like he was making policy on the hoof, backed into a corner in an interview focusing on why the NHS was in the midst of yet another winter crisis.

As the weather turns for the worse, there are many commentators who fear we shall struggle to get through to the spring without interminable queues forming in A&E and thousands of premature deaths as the health service struggles to cope. Most NHS trusts are either in the red or close to it, so there are grounds to fear the worst.

Like OECD reports, these warnings are issued frequently, and the NHS finds a way to trundle on. But it could achieve so much more if only our politicians found the will and the resources to lift the health service above the international average.

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