The NHS is no longer ranked as the best health system, dropping down the table in a study of 11 rich countries by an influential US thinktank.
The UK has tumbled from first to fourth in the Washington-based Commonwealth Fund’s latest analysis, falling behind Norway, the Netherlands and Australia.
It is a significant blow to the NHS, which has been the top-rated healthcare system in the think tank’s two previous reports in 2017 and 2014. The US has the worst-rated system by far – despite spending the most on care.
The NHS’s plight has been blamed on the delays facing patients in accessing treatment and care, a lack of investment and poverty.
“According to this report, our previously world-beating health service is at risk of moving to the middle of the pack, largely due to growing delays across the system in people’s ability to access care quickly,” Siva Anandaciva, the chief analyst at the King’s Fund, the leading UK health thinktank, told the Guardian.
“We can’t brush this under the carpet as being solely a consequence of the impact of the pandemic on patients, staff and services. Even before Covid, waiting lists for treatment were already sizeable after a decade of stalling funding and a growing workforce crisis.
“As Covid put the NHS under unprecedented pressure, the waiting list for routine NHS care has ballooned to levels not seen since the early 2000s.
“Whilst the NHS is doing its best to keep services running, increasing demand for hospital, mental health and GP services means the whole health and care system is now facing a capacity crunch.”
Eric Schneider, the lead author of the report, said the UK had scored lower marks compared with 2017 on three of the five criteria studied: access to care; care processes, which look at the coordination of treatment; and equity – or the ability of a person to obtain healthcare regardless of income.
The time taken to access care in the UK was the key factor in the NHS’s fall, he said. “For example, nearly 60% of adults in the UK found it somewhat or very difficult to obtain after-hours care, one of the highest rates among the countries surveyed.”
Schneider added: “We know that reported experiences of access, co-ordination and engagement can deteriorate over time if budgets are cut. The UK has been a remarkably lean spender among high-income countries while nevertheless maintaining a very high ranking.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to making sure the NHS has everything it needs to continue providing excellent care to the public, as we tackle the backlogs that have built up.
“We gave the NHS a historic settlement in 2018, which will see its budget rise by £33.9bn by 2023/24, and we have provided an extra £92bn to support health and care services throughout the pandemic.”