I’ve written several times about the sometimes-deadly shortcomings of government-run healthcare in the United Kingdom (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), so I like to think I’m relatively immune to being surprised.
But this story from the Telegraph is a shocking combination of tragedy and farce. Some regional healthcare bureaucracies are deliberately delaying treatment to avoid raising “expectations” on the part of patients (that’s the farce part), a policy that helps them meet budgets because some patients may “remove themselves” from waiting lists by dying (that’s the tragedy part).
At least 10 primary care trusts (PCTs) have told hospitals to increase the length of time before they see patients in order to save money, an investigation by The Daily Telegraph has found. In some areas, patients endured delays of 12 or 15 weeks after GPs decided they needed surgery, even though hospitals could have seen them sooner. The maximum permitted time between referral and treatment is 18 weeks. In one case a manager said the policy keeps patients in line as “short waiting times also create more demand for treatment due to the expectations this raises”. It comes after an NHS watchdog suggested that if patients are forced to wait a long time, they will remove themselves from lists “either by dying or by paying for their own treatment”. …Too many PCTs have been operating in a cynical environment where they can game the system — and in which political targets, particularly the maximum 18-week waiting time target, are used to actually delay treatment.”
By the way, criticism of the UK’s government-run healthcare system is not an endorsement in any way of the US’s government-dominated healthcare system. America’s system is almost as screwed up, largely because government intervention has created a massive third-party-payer problem.
But a single-payer scheme is not the answer. At some point, when all the various government policies fail, we should give free markets a try.