A new health survey has revealed that there is a growing concern among the British public about falling standards in the National Health Service (NHS). Nearly half of those surveyed by the Patients Association reported that they wanted to see further cuts in waiting times for treatment, an urgent reduction in infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile (C. diff) and an increase in the number of doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff.
"We have to make sure that the health service has adequate numbers of healthcare professionals capable of providing treatment within a reasonable amount of time in a safe environment," the Telegraph quoted leading Patient Association trustee Ann Alexander, a solicitor who specialises in health cases, as saying. "We don't want people put off by the fear of catching serious infections in hospital to the extent they feel they have to go abroad for treatment," Alexander added.
The survey has revealed that last year about 70,000 Britons spent more than 315 million pounds paying for treatment in overseas hospitals and clinics to escape long NHS waiting lists and high rates of infection. The amount is expected to grow substantially over the coming years. The numbers of patients seeking treatment abroad is forecast to rise to almost 200,000 by the end of the decade. This could mean as much as 886 million pounds being spent by Britons on foreign treatment.
Keith Pollard, of the information website Treatment Abroad, who carried out the study, said: "Despite huge investment in the NHS over the past 17 years, patients from the UK are voting with their feet and travelling abroad." A fifth of those surveyed identified a reduction in waiting times as their main priority. 15 per cent reported cuts in hospital infections would make the greatest difference to them and 14 per cent wanted to see more staff on duty.
The findings of the survey follow the publication of official figures, which show the Government is failing to meet its target for reducing the spread of hospital infections. Cases of C. diff rose by 7 per cent in hospital patients over the age of 65. Cases of MRSA decreased by 10 per cent from a high of 7,096, but this was not enough to meet the Government's pledge to halve the rate by next year.
However, despite serious concerns over the NHS, the Patients Association survey found a clear majority rejects any move towards creating an insurance-based health care system on US or French lines. More than 40 per cent back the present method of funding the NHS through national taxation. 24 per cent of those who took part, however, support a tax-deductible insurance policy as a way of paying for treatment.
The survey shows an overwhelming majority want an end to Britain's healthcare "postcode lottery" where availability of drugs and treatments depends on location. Alan Johnson, Health Secretary, said: "Most of the treatment carried out overseas is either minor cosmetic surgery or dentistry. Little of the treatment is for general elective surgery, and where it is the majority of people accessing it would probably have gone private in the UK anyway."