The UK entered the pandemic in a vulnerable position with both systemic weaknesses in the NHS and poor underlying health Health Foundation response to OECD 'Health at a Glance 2021' report

9 November 2021

Responding to the OECD Health at a Glance 2021 report, Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive for the Health Foundation, said:

‘The OECD’s findings about the UK are unsurprising. The UK entered the pandemic in a vulnerable position, both in terms of systemic weaknesses in the health care system and poor underlying population health.

‘Today’s report shows that per capita health expenditure in the UK in 2019 was significantly lower than in many other Western European countries, including France, the Netherlands and Germany. Underinvestment in the NHS over many years has resulted in fewer doctors, nurses, beds and scanners relative to our European neighbours. These weaknesses reduced the health and social care system’s resilience to a shock like the pandemic. They will also affect how quickly services can recover.

‘Despite relative underinvestment, the OECD report shows that the NHS compares well with other health systems on some key measures of health care quality, such as breast cancer screening and diabetes care. But more progress is needed in other areas, such as heart disease and some cancers.

‘Our analysis suggests that, while welcome, the recently announced extra funding for recovering services in the wake of the pandemic will not be enough to address the scale of the challenge. Further investment will be needed to return the NHS to pre-pandemic performance, let alone provide a health care system that is resilient enough to withstand future crises. Health Foundation analysis also shows the significant extra investment needed in social care, and to address workforce shortages in the sector.

‘Prior to the pandemic, the UK had experienced stalling life expectancy over the last decade. COVID-19 has highlighted the extent of poor underlying health in the UK, which contributed to the higher excess deaths we have seen during the pandemic compared to the rest of Europe. Deaths from COVID-19 were nearly four times higher in the most deprived areas of the UK than in the least deprived areas for the working age population.’

‘The government must now ensure that it puts the nation’s health at the heart of the pandemic recovery. It has promised to level up the country but levelling up health must be central to its plans.’

Media contact

Simon Perry
Simon.Perry@health.org.uk
020 7257 2093

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