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Deep Cuts to Health Care Services in the UK


The rising costs of health care are an international problem, and in the United Kingdom (UK) some dramatic deep cuts are planned. According to the Telegraph, the National Health Service (NHS) and senior health service officials have already agreed to a list of cost-cutting measures.

An investigation by The Sunday Telegraph uncovered the health care cuts “buried in obscure appendices to lengthy policy and strategy documents.” It was also reported that citizens in many local communities were not aware of the changes to health care services.

Despite the UK government’s promise to protect the budget of the NHS, “efficiency savings” of up to 20 billion pounds (about $30 billion) by 2014 must be instituted. The government says it will still maintain front-line services.

Among the changes to be made include rationing of most common surgeries, including hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery, and orthodontic procedures; reduction in services for the terminally ill; closure of nursing homes; and a reduction in the number of hospital beds available for acute care, including those for the mentally ill.

The NHS also plans to cut staff at NHS hospitals, ration funding of in vitro fertilization treatment and obesity surgery, and reduce spending for pediatric and maternity services, care for the elderly, and programs that offer respite services for caregivers.

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The cuts have drawn severe criticism from many quarters, including the Patients Association, which named the cuts ‘astonishingly brutal.” Katherine Murphy of the Association noted that “this is a really blatant attempt to save money by leaving people in pain.”

Dr. Peter Carter, head of the Royal College of Nursing, stated that he was “incredibly worried” about the changes. Carter urged Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to “get a grip” on what was happening in the NHS and said that Lansley “keeps saying that the Government will protect the front line from cuts—but the reality appears to be quite the opposite.”

In the UK, how, where, and by whom individuals receive health care is largely determined by the decisions made by 150 primary care trusts, all of which will be eliminated under the new approach to delivering care. Instead, general practitioners would come together in regional consortia to purchase services from hospitals and other medical and health care providers.

According to a New York Times article, the government stated that the upcoming changes would “cause significant disruption and loss of jobs,” but that “the current architecture of the health system has developed piecemeal, involves duplication and is unwieldy.” It believes that by abolishing the NHS and transferring health care decisions to patients and clinicians, “we will be able to effect a radical simplification, and remove layers of management.”

The deep cost cuts to health care and reorganization of services in the UK is an example of the critical decisions many countries are facing because of rising health care costs, an aging population, and failing economies. It remains to be seen what impact these and other measures will have on individuals and societies as a whole.

Telegraph, July 27, 2010
New York Times, July 25, 2010