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Britain’s NHS creaking under strain - The Australian Business review – 16.01.23

There are lessons for Australia as Britain watches in horror while its prized health service crumbles says Ticky Fullerton.

Whatever happens, do not find yourself at Accident and Emergency in a British hospital. This was the crisp advice given to me ahead of a brief trip to the UK this month.

Unfortunately an accident on day one of the trip where my 92-year-old father fell and knocked his head up-ended the best laid plans.

The catastrophe did, however, provide a ringside seat to the crisis playing out in British healthcare. And just like energy transition, Britain offers valuable lessons for Australia as the Albanese government ponders its response to the runaway costs of NDIS and an aged care system still not fit for purpose.

During what turned out to be a full day in A&E, my father became what is known as a “bed blocker”. He was fit to leave but for seven hours was unable to do so until head and neck scan results were returned (mercifully all good). In the meantime incoming emergency patients overflowed into the corridor for treatment due to lack of beds.

Last week fresh monthly numbers on the NHS crisis revealed a shocking state of affairs across the nation. Heart attack and stroke patients on average had to wait more than an hour and half for an ambulance in December. Doctors warn that delays are killing hundreds every week.

About 800,000 patients who turned up at A&E waited over four hours to be seen and over 54,000 patients spent more than 12 hours in corridors because of lack of beds, up over four times the number from a year ago. Corridor care is now part of the system.

NHS England has more than 130,000 job vacancies and the UK papers bemoan the young doctors heading for better pay and conditions in Australia.

At the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in Britain, the NHS was paraded as a national treasure, the envy of the world. Ten years on the system needs a massive makeover. Yet even worse than Medicare, it has become a political football far too hot to reform.

The extent of political sensitivity was exposed when the well-heeled British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was asked if he used private healthcare. He declined to say, arguing it was not really relevant. After days of follow up grilling by media he finally clarified to parliament that he was in fact registered with an NHS GP.

As The Times leader rightly pointed out, the PM had no reason to be embarrassed for choosing to use private healthcare. After all, he is a free choice Conservative and has lived in the US. “The toast dropping reply would have been in the negative,” observed The Times. Yet cost-of-living pressures in the UK and a badgering Opposition leader, with a wife and mother who both worked in the NHS, clearly made such a confession uncomfortable.

Thankfully in Australia there is still the belief that if you can afford to go private, this is the right thing to do, not least because it takes some of the burden off the public system.

For the full article in pdf with images, please click here:

Britain’s NHS creaking under strain - by Ticky Fullerton for the Australian Business revie
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Ticky Fullerton Editor-at-large, The Australian Business Review

Ticky Fullerton is one of Australia’s most experienced commentators and journalists. She was previously Sky News Business Editor and co-anchor of Business Weekend on Sky News Australia. She has worked as an investigative reporter with Four Corners, as a political reporter in Canberra and also as presenter for the national farming program, Landline.

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