NHS trusts delaying surgeries to get people to pay — or die

posted at 12:30 pm on July 30, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Thanks to the pressing and continuing developments in the debt-ceiling negotiations, we missed this exposé of the UK’s health-care bureaucracy and their attempt to save money on surgeries by forcing people into private care — or death.  An independent watchdog accused the National Health Service of forcing waiting times for surgery even when unnecessary in order to reduce the number of publicly-funded procedures in an attempt to save money.  In fact, as the Telegraph reports, the NHS forced private hospitals to delay surgeries, too, in a “levelling down” of health care service to keep the NHS from looking bad:

Health service trusts are “imposing pain and inconvenience” by making patients wait longer than necessary, in some cases as long as four months, the study found.

Executives believe the delays mean some people will remove themselves from lists “either by dying or by paying for their own treatment” claims the report, by an independent watchdog that advises the NHS. …

Under government targets, patients should be treated within 18 weeks of referral by a GP. But even when surgeons could see them far sooner, the study found that some trusts made hospitals wait as long as 15 weeks before operating. The tactic forced private hospitals, which were more likely to be able to treat patients quickly, to operate as slowly as overcrowded NHS units in an “unfortunate levelling down”.

Some managers insisted that longer waiting times would lead to overall savings as “experience suggests that if patients wait longer then some will remove themselves from the list”. Interpreting this statement, the panel noted: “We understand that patients will ‘remove themselves from the waiting list’ either by dying or by paying for their own treatment at private sector providers.”

Those who opted for private-sector providers ended up paying twice, of course, as their taxes fund their coverage by the NHS.  That is why these systems actually end up favoring the wealthy, who become the only patients with the option of getting around the bureaucratic nightmares and care rationing imposed by the NHS.  Equality in this instance comes from forcing efficient and effective providers to degrade their service in order to keep people from noticing that the government-run providers perform more poorly.

And, of course, we have the spectacle of what government rationing does to health care.  Because NHS blocks price signals to the consumer, the demand on the system is higher than it should be.  At the same time, the revenue from taxes doesn’t cover what would even be adequate care, while at the same time, the compensation from the government system discourages providers from expanding their services.  Rationing is the inevitable result, which in this case literally became the death panels about which Americans worried in the ObamaCare debate.

Speaking of which, the biggest fan of the NHS here in America is coming to the end of his recess appointment.  Donald Berwick still runs the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), having never even bothered to complete his Senate questionnaire or start a confirmation hearing.  His recess appointment will run out in a few days, after Congress recesses for the month of August, unless the Senate stays in session to prevent other recess appointments by Barack Obama.  Obama renominated Berwick last year for the position, but 42 Republicans signed a letter in March of this year pledging to block a confirmation, prompting Democrats to give up on Berwick.

However, Obama has not put anyone else forward for this position, which means that the post will go vacant in a few days … unless Obama issues another recess appointment for Berwick.  Will Obama keep a man who cheers a system with the “death panels” that the White House insists it doesn’t want?  We’ll soon see.

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