Being sick in the United Kingdom has advantages and disadvantages. Supporters will cite that out-of-pocket costs are generally low, coverage is universal, and the price of health care to the government is lower. One question is, what is the quality of care received? Critics cite that access to cutting edge, innovative treatments is often restricted or delayed. This is particularly true of cancer treatments. The Guardian reports:
More than 100,000 patients a year are “having their worst fears dragged out” by having to wait longer than the stated maximum of two weeks to see a cancer specialist to find out if they have the disease, new NHS figures obtained by the Guardian reveal.
A total of 102,697 people in England did not get to see a consultant within 14 days of being urgently referred by their GP last year – a key patient right in the NHS constitution. Some 25,153 people had to wait more than the official target of 62 days to start their treatment.
One questions is whether these delays are just inconveniences or if they really affect patient health. The president of the Royal College of Radiologists, Dr Nicola Strickland, said:
“Any delay in diagnosis or time to start therapy risks a growth in the cancer, potentially making it incurable. These delays increase the anxiety experienced by patients and their relatives at this difficult time.”
It is easy to cite statistics that the UK’s National Health Service has lower cost of care than the U.S.. However, most sick patients–and healthy individuals who may become sick one day–want access to the best available treatment. These options are limited in the NHS. Further, restrictions on reimbursement for novel, breakthrough treatments lead to less investment and fewer treatments developed for future generations of patients. Although making sure treatments are affordable to patients is important, affordability to payers is not useful if patients do not get access to the treatments they need.