The UK performs well globally on health but squanders money on health reforms.
And internationally health services are top-heavy with specialists at the expense of effective primary care services.
These are the findings of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) a think tank, which has produced Health at a Glance 2011 providing the latest comparable data on different aspects of the performance of health systems in OECD countries.
The report shows that on average medical care is improving in OECD countries, with higher survival rates for life-threatening diseases but it calls for better prevention and management for chronic diseases.
In terms of survival rates – it was found that only 4% of people hospitalised after a heart attack now die within 30 days following hospital admission, down from 8% in 2000. Survival rates for different types of cancer are also increasing, thanks to earlier detection and better treatments, and yet the UK was below the OECD average for most cancers including breast cancer where the five-year survival rate was 81% as against an average of 84%.
Britain also performed badly on unnecessary admissions for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Asthma should be treated effectively by primary care providers, states the report, yet, on average, 50 out of 100000 adults in OECD countries are admitted to hospitals for asthma each year. In the UK the asthma admissions rate was 74 per 100000 adults compared to an OECD average of 52. Likewise for COPD it was 213 compared to an average of 198. However, the UK scored better on diabetes, where admissions were less than half the OECD average.
Obesity is another major area of concern. In more than half of OECD countries, 50% or more of the population is now overweight, if not obese.
These findings highlight the importance of strengthening prevention and management of chronic diseases and ensuring a sufficient supply of primary care providers, the report concludes.
Health at a Glance 2011 shows that the balance between general practitioners (GPs) and specialists has changed over the past decade, with the number of medical specialists increasing much more rapidly than GPs.
Other key findings centred on the amount OECD countries spend on health.
Health spending accounted for 9.8% of GDP in the United Kingdom in 2009, exceeding the OECD average of 9.6%. Per capita health spending over 2000-2009 grew in real terms by 4.8%, more than the OECD average of 4.0%.
The public sector is the main source of health funding in all OECD countries, except Chile, Mexico and the United States. In the United Kingdom, 84% of health spending was funded by public sources in 2009, well above the average of 72%, and among the highest share in OECD countries.
Experts at the OECD claim reforms cost ‘two years of improvements in quality’ – and have stated that ‘no country reforms its health service as frequently as the UK’.