The NHS is performing “substantially less well” than similar countries on life expectancy and other health outcomes, according to a report.
The King’s Fund study said the UK health system is lagging behind peers on crucial measures, including avoidable mortality – deaths that could have been avoided with better primary care.
Another key damning finding from the report was that Britain has substantially fewer key physical resources than many of its peers, including MRI scanners and hospital beds.
It comes as Rishi Sunak admitted that “it will take time” for the overall NHS waiting list to come down, and promised a plan that will see the “largest expansion in training and workforce” in its history.
The PM said the NHS long-term staffing plan – to be finally set out this week after delays – will reduce reliance on “foreign-trained healthcare professionals” and ensure Britain has the doctors and nurses it needs for the future.
But the scale of the challenge facing the health service was made clear by The King’s Fund report, commissioned by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, and published on Monday ahead of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the NHS.
The report warned that the UK performs poorly on healthcare outcomes across several different major disease groups and health conditions linked to avoidable mortality.
The UK had the fourth and second-highest rates of preventable and treatable mortality in 2019 among the 19 health systems in the report, with 119 deaths and 69 deaths per 100,000 people respectively.
It described the NHS overall as “neither a leader nor a laggard” among other national health systems, having compared it with the health systems of 18 similar higher income countries – the original 15 EU member states, excluding Luxembourg, and the “Anglosphere” of the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Siva Anandaciva, the report’s author, said at a briefing: “On healthcare outcomes specifically, both for the outcomes that a system can control and those wider measures that rely on services that keep us healthy … we lag behind our peers. We are not by any means where we should be.”
Cancer survival rates formed the biggest part of preventable mortality, whilst circulatory diseases such as heart attacks and strokes were the main cause of treatable mortality.
The UK had the fewest number of MRI scanners among all 19 health systems in 2019, whilst only Sweden had a lower number of general hospital beds per 1,000 people in the same year.
Mr Anandaciva said capital infrastructure was “absolutely crying out” for investment, and that people from other countries were “really baffled” by the continual lack of investment in this area in the UK.
The report also highlighted the NHS had strikingly low levels of key clinical staff, including doctors and nurses, and is heavily reliant on medical professionals trained abroad.
The King’s Fund expert said that the UK exported a huge amount of nursing talent that is trained in the country and not held onto, instead making up large percentages of medical workforces in countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
The report suggests that British policy makers should “pick out specific areas of learning and interesting practice” from other health systems, rather than attempt an entire reset.
Mr Anandaciva explained: “There are ways in which other countries, like Belgium and Australia, do long-term workforce planning, where they are thinking about the next 10 to 15 years, which we’ve talked a lot about doing in this country but are still yet to do.”
Mr Sunak told the BBC that this week’s workforce plan is “going to be one of the most significant announcements in the history of the NHS”, saying it would ensure the service has the doctors, nurses and GPs it needs “for years into the future”.
But pressed by host Laura Kuenssberg on how long it will take to see the benefits of the changes, he conceded it could take “five, 10, 15 years for these things to come through”.
The Sunday Times reported that the proposals could include a doubling of medical training places for doctors, with additional funding agreed with the Treasury to pay for it, although the PM did not confirm this when asked by Ms Kuenssberg.
It comes days after junior doctors in England announced they would be staging a five-day strike next month in a dramatic escalation of their dispute with the government over pay and staffing.
Members of the British Medical Association will walk out from 13 to 18 July in what the association said is thought to be the longest single period of industrial action in the history of the health service.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “Had the Conservatives trained the staff the NHS needs over the past 13 years, it would not be going through the biggest crisis in its history today. And still they have no plan to stop staff leaving today, end the strikes, or to reform the NHS.”