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NHS is an extremely cost-effective health system

The NHS saves more lives for each pound spent as a proportion of national wealth than any other country apart from Ireland and is one of the most cost-effective health systems in the world, a study finds.

The study, published as a JRSM Short Report, compares health spending and mortality rates globally and shows a “better than expected” performance for the NHS over a 25-year period.

Among the 17 countries considered, the United States healthcare system was among the least efficient and effective.

Using the latest data from the World Health Organisation, the paper shows that while Labour’s investment in the NHS saw health spending rise to a record 9.3% of GDP, this was still less than Germany with 10.7% or the US with 15%.

Not only was the UK cheaper, says the paper, it saved more lives. The NHS reduced the number of adult deaths a million of the population by 3,951 a year – far better than the nearest comparable European countries.

The study contradicts assertions by the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, that the NHS lags behind other developed countries and needs competition and choice to become more efficient.

Professor Colin Pritchard, of Bournemouth University, who analysed data from 1980 to 2005, said. “The government proposals to change the NHS are largely based on the idea that the NHS is less efficient and effective than other countries, especially the US.

“The results question why we need a big set of health reform proposals. The system works well. Look at the US and you can see where choice and competition gets you. Pretty dismal results.”

Despite the UK having among the biggest reductions in mortality, UK ‘adult’ rates are fifth highest among Western countries, “so there can be no grounds for complacency”, the authors say.

The authors conclude: “Every country has seen major falls in its death rates and longevity has increased over the past 25 years, so despite the huge sums going to health, on reflection, this health expenditure has been well spent, especially when these rates are translated into the numbers of people who have not died, as more than 170,000 people in the UK and more than half a million in America are alive today, who would not have been 25 years ago.

“It is hoped these results might be a boost to patients and their families in every Western country but especially those using the NHS, and that some recognition goes to UK frontline staff, who over the past 25 years, have achieved more with relatively less.”

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