The NHS has among the lowest per capita numbers of doctors, nurses and hospital beds in the western world, a new study of international health spending has revealed.
The stark findings come from a new King’s Fund analysis of health data from 21 countries, collected by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. They reveal that only Poland has fewer doctors and nurses than the UK, while only Canada, Denmark and Sweden have fewer hospital beds, and that Britain also falls short when it comes to scanners.
“If the 21 countries were a football league then the UK would be in the relegation zone in terms of the resources we put into our healthcare system, as measured by staff, equipment and beds in which to care for patients,” said Siva Anandaciva, the King’s Fund’s chief analyst.
“If you look across all these indicators – beds, staffing, scanners – the UK is consistently below the average in the resources we give the NHS relative to countries such as France and Germany. Overall, the NHS does not have the level of resources it needs to do the job we all expect it to do, given our ageing and growing population, and the OECD data confirms that,” he added.
The report concludes that, given the dramatic differences between Britain and other countries: “A general picture emerges that suggests the NHS is under-resourced.”
The thinktank’s research found that the UK has the third-lowest number of doctors among the 21 nations, with just 2.8 per 1,000 people, barely half the number in Austria, which has 5.1 doctors per 1,000 of population.
Similarly, the UK has the sixth-smallest number of nurses for its population: just 7.9 per 1,000 people – way behind Switzerland, which has the most: 18 nurses, more than twice as many.
With hospital beds, the UK has just 2.6 for every 1,000 people, just over a third of the number in Germany, which has the most – 8.1 beds – and which places the UK 18th overall out of the 21 countries which the OECD gathered figures for. The number of hospital beds in England has halved over the last 30 years and now stands at about 100,000, though the NHS added about 4,000 more as an emergency measure in December, January and February to help it cope with the spike in patient numbers caused by the long, cold winter.
Doctors’ leaders said the report showed that the NHS is “chronically underfunded” and is receiving £10bn less per year than it needs.
“These statistics show that the UK has fewer beds per head compared to virtually all other EU nations, fewer doctors and nurses, reduced access to investigations such as MRI scans, and is spending less on medications,” said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, leader of the British Medical Association, which represents most of the NHS’s 240,000 doctors.
“Taken together, these numbers translate into the painful reality afflicting the NHS daily, of a system under pressure with inadequate capacity to meet the health needs of the population. This is directly resulting in delays and is adversely affecting quality of care for patients. It is also causing unsustainable workload burdens on NHS staff, causing stress and burnout and affecting recruitment and retention.”
The National Audit Office said in March that the NHS’s finances were “in a perilous state” and that the service was being hampered by having vacancies for 100,000 staff. Lord Darzi, a former Labour health minister, said last month that the NHS needed to receive a £50bn boost to its budget by 2020, taking it to £173bn.
The Department of Health and Social Care said that the Commonwealth Fund, a global health thinktank, had ranked the NHS as the world’s best and most efficient health service. “As this analysis shows, spending on the NHS is in line with other European countries but it fails to acknowledge that funding is actually at record levels – £1.6bn is being invested in 2018-19, on top of a planned £10bn-a-year increase in its budget by 2020-21, with an extra £2bn and a further £150m for social care this year,” a spokeswoman said.
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