In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis described the dreary state of Narnia under the curse of the White Witch as “always winter but never Christmas.” His assessment may soon apply to the National Health Service (NHS), whose annually intensifying “winter crisis” threatens to become permanent, according to the UK’s leading doctors’ association.
“The winter crisis has truly been replaced by a year-round crisis,” said Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA).
Each winter, the need for medical care strains the nationalized healthcare infrastructure to the breaking point. This year, the NHS preemptively cancelled all surgeries it deemed “non-urgent,” with some waiting times exceeding 18 weeks; then, it canceled an additional 25,000 surgeries with one day’s notice or less.
Emergency waits lasted longer than ever. The NHS has never met its goal of having 95 percent of patients seen within four hours. (To put that in perspective, the average U.S. wait time is 138 minutes.) But some waits well exceeded UK standards. On 2,010 occasions, patients waited in emergency rooms 12 hours or more in the Royal Cornwall Hospital alone – six-times higher than last year.
The inevitable rationing that accompanies single-payer health care discriminates against the elderly. “Older people were more likely to face long waits,” Cornwall Live reported. “One in 23 people aged 90 and over (4.4%) waited longer than 12 hours from arrival to admission, discharge or transfer in 2017/18.” Yet no one under the age of 10 did.
The long waits in A&E rooms came about because NHS hospitals lack sufficient beds. Some 54 of 137 NHS trusts reached 100 percent occupancy. A record 16,900 people were stuck waiting in ambulances during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
The UK’s health care troubles became so acute that last year the British Red Cross likened NHS service to a “humanitarian crisis.” And winter’s chill still hangs in the air. In April, 20 percent of Welsh emergency patients spent 12 hours or more waiting for treatment – worse than last year.
Only a massive funding increase, the BMA warns, can stave off perpetual winter. A new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the Health Foundation puts a dollar figure on that: £2,000 a year from every single home in the UK. Funding would have to increase by three to four percent a year to make even “modest” improvements, the report states.
“Taxes will have to rise” to “historically high levels” (“but not especially high by continental European standards,” the report helpfully notes) to meet current wait time goals. “We will have to pay a lot more,” said IFS Director Paul Johnson – and, he admitted, the burden will fall on the middle class, since the wealthy are “very mobile.”
NHS spending would grow faster than the most optimistic GDP estimates. British families would see one-quarter of all their projected income gains consumed by the NHS tax.
At the same time, the NHS engages in “a ridiculous waste of resources,” according to one health care expert. He specified the practice of “bed-blocking”: Surgeons are idled “daily,” unable to operate because social care does not have beds available for patients who should have already been discharged.