UK tops USA for healthcare effectiveness

The UK’s National Health Service leaves the USA – and most other ‘western’ countries – standing in terms of reducing deaths, and at lower costs, over the past 25 years.

The findings, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Short Reports, surprised researchers from Bournemouth University who compared the GDP Health Expenditure (GDPHE) and Effectiveness of the UK, the USA and 15 other ‘western’ countries between 1979 and 2005 (the latest year data were available for the countries reviewed).

Bournemouth University Professor Colin Pritchard and colleague Mark Wallace found that the NHS was the second most efficient and effective in reducing deaths amongst the 17 countries reviewed. The USA health care system was, statistically, the least efficient and effective.

Rating efficiency was based on money the 17 Western countries actually spent on health. Countries reviewed include Austria, Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA.

“The Government proposals to change the NHS are largely based on the idea that the Service is less efficient and effective than other countries, especially the USA,” said Professor Pritchard. “These results should be a boost for patients, their families and frontline NHS staff. They raise the question of how does the health reform proposals justify bringing in `competition’ and further `private health care’ into the NHS, when the land of `competition and private’ health care produces such dismal results?

“Of course no system is perfect and sadly on rare occasions things go wrong but the only way to judge the NHS is to compare it with other comparable countries at the hard-end of health care, reducing feasible deaths,” concluded Professor Pritchard.

Other findings include:

Money Spent on Health:  The record level of UK GDPHE, 9.3%, is still below the Western average and over the period the UK average of 7.1% was way below the USA 12.2% average.

Deaths Saved: In 1979-81 `older’ (55-74) UK deaths were 24,961 per million (pm) by 2003-05 fell by 45% to 13,698pm, whereas the USA `older’ rates reduced by only 28% to 15,919pm.

Dividing the deaths saved by the average GDPHE, money spent, the UK had the 2nd biggest `savings’ of all at 1% GDPHE to 1490pm reduced deaths, compared to the USA 1% GDPHE to 515pm deaths saved indicating that the NHS has achieved more with proportionally less and that the NHS is one of the most efficient and effective health care systems in the world.

Turning these rates into numbers of people who are alive today, who wouldn’t have been alive 25 years ago, annually there are 176,258 fewer deaths of which 127,631 were fewer `older’ people.