Yet even as the single-payer system remains the ideal for many on the left, it’s worth examining how Britain’s NHS, established in 1948, is faring. The answer: badly. NHS England—a government body that receives about £100 billion a year from the Department of Health to run England’s health-care system—reported this month that its hospital waiting lists soared to their highest point since 2006, with 3.2 million patients waiting for treatment after diagnosis. NHS England figures for July 2013 show that 508,555 people in London alone were waiting for operations or other treatments—the highest total for at least five years.
Even cancer patients have to wait: According to a June report by NHS England, more than 15% of patients referred by their general practitioner for “urgent” treatment after being diagnosed with suspected cancer waited more than 62 days—two full months—to begin their first definitive treatment.
In response the British government has enlisted private care for help, including most recently through the Health and Social Care Act 2012. In May last year, the Nuffield Trust, an independent research and policy institute, along with the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the U.K.’s leading independent microeconomic research institute, issued a report on NHS-funded private care. The report showed that over the past decade the NHS, desperate to reduce its ever-expanding rolls, has increasingly sent patients to private care. The share of NHS-funded hip and knee replacements by private doctors increased to 19% in 2011-12, from a negligible amount in 2003-04.