We learn our lessons very slowly in this country. Amidst all this scraping the barrel talk on the news about finding extra money for the NHS fact is never is uttered: We can CHOOSE to spend more on our health service. Other countries spend more than we do. So why can’t we? The answer is a lack of political will, not money
The cuts the NHS has endured for the last 5 years have been entirely avoidable. We know this already. This small blog post wants to plough a slightly different furrow. We have different parties and stakeholders debating why the £8bn figure is important or not. Is this figure enough merely to stop the NHS collapsing? Or will it actually provide some value added to the services? Why are we debating about how much we can scrape from a supposedly empty barrel? The most annoying thing about this discussion is that it simply plays into an austerity discourse whereby ‘there’s no money left’ and we have no choice but to scrimp and scrape. This is a fallacy. We can choose to spend more on NHS and social services. We choose not to – Why?
In the UK we spend circa $36001 per capita on healthcare. Germany and France spend around $4700. Sweden spends around $5300 and Denmark around $6000. Norway and the US (SHOCK!) spend way more, both around $9000 a piece2. This spells out the commitment that other countries make compared to us in the UK. In terms of what chunk this takes out of national budgets as a share of GDP the UK also lags behind, even after years of New Labour where healthcare spending increased markedly; it still wasn’t enough. The UK hovers around the 9% on this ‘bite out of the budget’ share. Curiously enough this is roughly the same as Denmark and Sweden – two countries with famed and feted quality social healthcare systems.
The important point here is that this ‘bite out of the budget’ figure doesn’t tell you how large the budget as a whole is. In Sweden and Denmark, as a percentage of GDP their total public spending is much larger than in the UK, which is where one realises that this GDP per capita healthcare spend per head is far more meaningful.
So, we’re behind. Why? is it because we have less money than these other countries? Or course not. Anyone who tells us ‘we can’t afford it’ is peddling in untruths. We’re not spending the money on healthcare we need to because we’re choosing not to. Simple.
This argument around the UK’s healthcare spend is not an original one. it gets trotted out every now again, but seldom is listened to.
2. The US is an odd case. Two large government led programmes, medicare and medicaid, exist to plug the enormous gaps left by the private insurance system that doesn’t like covering sick people unless they happen to be loaded. Expensive and inefficient. This is the pre-Obamacare arrangement. How these changes of the Affordable Care act bed in (if they’re allowed to) will only be seen in the years coming.