Health-care cuts in Britain: draconian?
Health-care reforms amount to most sweeping changes in the 60 years of Britain's health-care system. Now, more cuts are planned.
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In crisis-hit Europe, Britain's healthcare system is suffering some of the most dramatic cuts, raising questions about the sustainability of socialized medicine.Skip to next paragraph
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Many doctors warn Britain's new cost-cutting measures will force stretched hospitals too far.
A report in October from Britain's health regulator found 20 percent of hospitals are breaking the law by failing to provide minimum standards of care to elderly patients.
Officials on unannounced visits found patients shouting or banging on bedrails to get a nurse's attention. Some struggled to eat without assistance. At one hospital, inspectors found some patients hadn't been given water in more than 10 hours.
Another health watchdog accused hospitals of imposing minimum waiting times on patients for elective surgeries, suggesting officials hoped to cut costs as people either decided to pay for private treatment or died on the waiting list.
Still, for basic services like a doctor's appointment, most family doctors offer same-day services for patients requesting urgent care or non-urgent visits within 10 days. Britain has also made an effort to improve its cancer care and largely upheld its target of getting patients fast treatment, such as breast cancer surgery, within two to four weeks of being diagnosed.
Other goals are proving tougher. People needing non-emergency procedures for cataracts, hip replacements and hernias are supposed to begin treatment within 18 weeks of being referred to specialists by their family doctor. Patient advocates say that while most people are being referred for treatment within that period, an increasing number are facing longer delays.
Sheep farmer Evans said he never considered going for private care since he couldn't afford it.
"The problem is there will be many more people like me who are suffering and are now being forced to wait quite a long time," he said.
Some experts say ballooning health costs will ultimately force a reconsideration of Britain's socialized medicine.
"At some point, we'll have to look at what the boundaries are of what governments provide and what people will be paying for themselves," said Mark Pearson, head of health at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris.
"At the moment, countries aren't ready to have that discussion yet, but that breaking point will come one day."