‘UK lags’ in health staff numbers

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Published: Tuesday 5th May 2015 by The News Editor

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The UK has fewer doctors, nurses, hospital beds and crucial medical equipment than most other wealthy nations, a report has found.

There were just 2.8 doctors and 8.2 nurses per 10,000 population in 2012, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The other wealthy countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) had averages of 3.2 and 8.9 respectively, with the EIU describing the UK figures as “worrying” due to the link between staff numbers and patient outcomes.

It pointed to the Mid Staffs scandal which saw hundreds die as a result of poor care, with low staffing given as a reason for the hospital’s failings.

The report also warned that although both Labour and the Tories are promising more doctors if they are in power after the General Election, self-employed GPs in the UK are already the highest-paid in the list, earning 3.6 times the average wage, meaning it would be expensive to employ more.

At the same time, too much wage restraint would put off new recruits, it added.

Salaried GPs and hospital doctors have far more modest earnings although nurses’ wages are also comparatively high, it said.

The EIU said it would be cheaper in the long term to invest in more permanent staff rather than spending millions on agency workers. It described a dministrative staff as an “easy target” for job cuts because their contribution to care is less obvious, but it said the administrative costs of the NHS are low compared with other countries.

The report described managers as “necessary”, who at their best help clinical staff do their job better.

In terms of physical resources, the report said the situation in the UK was even worse, ranked near the bottom of the OECD league with just 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 population against an OECD average of 4.8. In Japan there were 13.4 per 1,000.

The UK had less than half the amount of equipment – such as computerised tomography (CT) scanners and magnetic resonance image (MRI) units – than the average, at 6.8 and 8.7 per million population.

Overall it ranked 28th out of 30 countries for healthcare resourcing, with o nly Israel and Turkey coming out worse.

The UK fared better on the charts for healthcare spending – in 16th place out of 30 – but the report suggested this meant it is not getting the best value for money, while the amount being spent seems to be running ahead of funding, leading to growing budget deficits at many hospitals.

It said that although t he UK healthcare system holds up well against its OECD peers judged on cost-efficiency, c ompared with other wealthy countries, the UK does not spend much on healthcare “and, in terms of equipment and staffing, it shows”.

The UK was also “mediocre” in terms of outcomes, with life expectancy lower than in countries such as Japan, where older people are also healthier.

Cancer mortality rates are higher than the OECD average, but the prevalence of diabetes is still relatively low compared with countries including France, Germany and Japan.

There was also good news for the UK’s performance in terms of equity, where the report said it “outperforms” due to the NHS principle of free care at the point of use, meaning the gap between the care received by those on low incomes and those on higher incomes is smaller than in most OECD countries.

The report’s author, Ana Nicholls, said: “Although recruitment has already picked up, it is clear that NHS resources are very stretched compared with those in other OECD countries.

“A tight government budget will make it hard for politicians to fulfil their promises of extra funding, but resourcing will only become a bigger issue as the population ages.

“Nevertheless, there are areas where the UK could be getting better value for its money, such as better links between local and national commissioning systems, and better co-ordination between health and social services. The new government will need to tackle these challenges without causing more disruption to NHS services.”

Published: Tuesday 5th May 2015 by The News Editor

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