Oct 17, 2018

Britain’s National Health Service Is a Cautionary Tale

Post by Freedom Partners

Would you consult your lawyer with 14 other people present? How about your therapist?

How about your doctor?

In the United Kingdom, patients may be required to do just that. Under new proposed National Health Service plans — which many overburdened doctors say should become “the default option” offered under the NHS — patients could be expected to see their general practitioners in groups of up to 15 people.

What doctors at the annual conference of the Royal College of General Practitioners called a “fun and efficient” way to see patients is in reality a symptom of desperation for an NHS overburdened with patients and lacking doctors and nurses. The NHS boasts that these new proposed plans will afford patients up to 90 minutes to discuss their ailments — that is, with the other patients in their session.

With their own doctors, they’ll have two minutes, making these plans closer to a therapy session than a doctor’s appointment.

The alternative isn’t much better. Since vacancies for doctors and nurses have reached all-time highs for the NHS, patients are waiting longer for the services they need — much longer.

Most appalling, the number of patients who die while waiting for treatment has dramatically increased over the past five years. Five years ago, that number was just shy of 19,000 people. Today, it exceeds 29,000 people.

The NHS has always been short on doctors and nurses in its 70-year existence, but the problem has been growing worse. Today, NHS is short 11,500 doctors and 42,000 nurses.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. When the government becomes the single payer for the health care of its citizens, it must also find a way to control the costs of care. In a free market, that means allowing competition to flourish in the industry, dropping prices and expanding access to care.

With the NHS, that requires rationing. It means paying professionals and hospitals below the market rate — and sometimes below the rate for the minimum costs of care — for health services.

In response, health care providers reduce the supply of care available. Sometimes, they leave the market entirely. For those left in the market, the work is exhausting and stressful, with terrible working conditions and relatively little pay.

The NHS is a cautionary tale.

So, why the desire to import single-payer to the United States? After all, the United Kingdom is the perfect demonstration of the fact that guaranteeing a right to a service is no guarantee that one will actually enjoy that service.

The solution for better health care is not to restrict choices — as the British have done, and which produces ghastly results — but to expand them. We should have options when it comes to our care, which reduces costs, creates efficiency and expands access to health services.

There are a number of ways to accomplish this goal, including expanding access to short-term, limited duration health insurance plans and direct primary care; repealing costly, corrupt and unfair certificate-of-need laws; and reform scope of practice laws. Those are much better ways to ensure that Americans see better health care outcomes.

That’s what Americans need. We shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the NHS.