Health Care Waiting Lists in Britain Growing Longer

The number of English patients forced to wait weeks, sometimes months for treatment is rising fast.

The number of patients in Britain who are not being treated within the eighteen weeks that the government recommends is rising. Medical professionals blame budget squeezes but the news should come as a reminder that the National Health Service (NHS) is inherently incapable of improving efficiency and standards of care.

Recent NHS data reveals that 26 percent more English patients were forced to wait beyond the eighteen week threshold in March compared to the same month last year. The number forced to wait more than six months for treatment shot up by 43 percent.

Despite a rising demand for care caused by an increasing number of seniors, the NHS treated over 16,000 fewer patients in March 2011 compared to March 2010. According to the British Medical Association, a doctors’ union, the longer waits were inevitable, “given the massive financial pressures on the NHS.”

The shortcomings of Britain’s public health system are far from recent however. Earlier this year, the National Health Service Ombudsman lambasted the NHS for “failing to meet even the most basic standards of care.” He found an attitude, “both personal and institutional,” that failed “to recognize the humanity and individuality of the people concerned and to respond to them with sensitivity, compassion and professionalism.”

The reasonable expectation that an older person or their family may have of dignified, pain free end of life care in clean surroundings in hospital is not being fulfilled.

Britain’s coalition government has not quite singled out the NHS from budget cuts in the face of an unprecedented fiscal crisis but it is prevented by campaign promises from fundamentally reforming the system.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg explicitly vowed to protect the NHS from privatization two months ago, saying he would not let the “profit motive drive a coach and horses” through it. Prime Minister David Cameron at least recognizes that “a little bit of extra money” will not “smooth over the challenges” but believes that little reforms within the collectivist framework can somehow fix all that is wrong with the NHS.

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