Saturday, March 27, 2010
The Fix Is In
Why Britain’s National Health Service spends so much and does so little
Americans would do well to ponder a recent admission by a former British minister in the Blair government. On March 2, the Guardian reported that the ex-minister, now Lord Warner, said that while spending on Britain’s National Health Service had increased by 60 percent under the Labour government, its output had decreased by 4 percent. No doubt the spending of a Soviet-style organization like the NHS is more easily measurable than its output, but the former minister’s remark certainly accords with the experiences of many citizens, who see no dramatic improvement in the service as a result of such vastly increased outlays. On the contrary, while the service has taken on 400,000 new staff members—that is to say, one-fifth of all new jobs created in Britain during the period—continuity of medical care has been all but extinguished. Nobody now expects to see the same doctor on successive occasions, in the hospital or anywhere else.
The ex-minister admitted that most of the extra money—which by now must equal a decent proportion of the total national debt—had been simply wasted. (The same might be said, of course, of the increased outlays put toward state education.) But his explanation for this state of affairs was superficial and self-exculpating, to say the least: he said that the NHS received more money than it knew what to do with because of managerial inexperience. “It was like giving a starving man foie gras and caviar,” he said....