While the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is often maligned, it remains one of the biggest government successes throughout the western world.
At its best, a fully functional NHS is the envy of the world, while many of its recent issues have been caused by increased demand (due to Covid-19 and an aging population) and a significant lack of funding in real terms.
Due to the unique pressures it has faced of late, the NHS has also been hit with mounting medical negligence claims, further adding to its huge administrative and financial burden.
But how does the actual delivery of free healthcare through the NHS compare to the US’s private insurance system, and the UK’s partners in the EU?
The US system does not provide even emergency healthcare for free at the point of service, with every kind of treatment billable by private organisations.
Because of this and the fact that the healthcare market is governed entirely by free market factors (in this instance including endless demand and a limited, controlled supply of services), the cost of healthcare in the US is also remarkably high.
For example, the USA is the most expensive country in the world in which to treat a broken leg (by the sole measure of treatment costs, at least), with this estimated to be in the region of £25,550. This is some 7.5x higher than the average cost of £3,363 in the UK, which is why so many US citizens have to take our private medical insurance to access healthcare.
For individuals in low-income jobs or are unemployed, it’s often impossible to take out suitable healthcare policies, creating a scenario where many have no viable access at all to even basic healthcare.
Most countries in Europe also operate a private medical insurance system, although some combine this with the provision of free emergency care at the point of service.
Interestingly, one of the most advanced private insurance systems in Europe is operated in Switzerland, where patients pay £4,956 to healthcare coverage on average every single year.
This equates to 69% of the total cost of healthcare, with this percentage markedly higher than any other country around the world.
Spain also operates a largely private healthcare system, with the average cost of treating a broken leg here thought to be as high as £15,000. This also creates significant potential issues for patients, particularly for those who don’t have access to the requisite medical coverage through their insurer.
Obviously, healthcare systems are even more disparate around the world, with nations like Singapore offering a private delivery mechanism that requires patients to leverage medical insurance in most instances (it costs around £10,396 to treat a broken leg here).
Developing countries like India provide a far less organised healthcare system, of course, with this often hamstrung by an underlying lack of structure and a huge population. Interestingly, Indian citizens currently pay the highest rate of out-of-pocket health costs, with a staggering 63% of healthcare expenditure here covered by out-of-pocket costs.
This equates to an average cost of £33 to the patient, while serving as a timely reminder of why we need to protect and nurture our unique NHS going forward.