The NHS has fewer nurses, beds and hospital equipment than other wealthy countries such as Switzerland, the US, Germany and Japan, new research comparing healthcare systems has found.
The report, published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranked the UK as 16th out of 32 nations for its number of nurses, with 8.2 for every 10,000 population in 2012. The average across these wealthy countries is 8.9.
This is despite staffing being the NHS’s biggest cost, noted the report called The NHS: How does it compare?.
“The situation is even worse when it comes to physical resources such as hospital beds and medical equipment,” added the study.
It found the UK has just 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 population compared to an average of 4.8 across the 32 countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
“Although recruitment has already picked up, it is clear that NHS resources are very stretched compared with those in other [wealthy] countries”
When comparing equipment – such as computerised tomography scanner and magnetic resonance image units – the UK is ranked as having less than half the average of the other OECD countries.
Overall, the study ranked the UK as being 28th – almost at the bottom – for healthcare resourcing, which includes numbers of doctors, nurses, beds and equipment.
But it is ranked for 16th healthcare spending, suggesting that the UK is not getting the best value for money, added the report.
It noted that nurse recruitment drives have occurred in recent years following the 2013 Francis report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.
However, it highlighted: “Even in better run hospitals, the demands of caring for elderly patients with complex needs are undoubtedly placing an extra burden on staff.”
“Expecting the health service… to meet rising demand with the same level of funding is in the realms of fantasy”
“There is also a clear need across the UK for more midwives, owing to the rising birth rate,” stated the report. “The question, as always, is how to increase these resources, given the need to constrain spending.”
Meanwhile, the report points out that hospital beds are in decline “nearly everywhere,” partly in a bid to reduce inefficiencies and fixed overheads, and also in response to modern medical techniques that have cut the length of hospital stays.
Report author Ana Nicholls said: “Although recruitment has already picked up, it is clear that NHS resources are very stretched compared with those in other OECD countries.”
She added: “A tight government budget will make it hard for politicians to fulfil their promises of extra funding, but resourcing will only become a bigger issue as the population ages.
“Nevertheless, there are areas where the UK could be getting better value for its money, such as better links between local and national commissioning systems, and better coordination between health and social services.”
Commenting on the report, the Royal College of Nursing said it showed that the UK’s health service “desperately” required more resources, equipment, and staff.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “Expecting the health service to continue providing services with the same level of funding is unrealistic, expecting it to meet rising demand with the same level of funding is in the realms of fantasy.
“If the UK wants a health care service befitting a wealthy OECD country, it has to pay for it,” he said.
He added: “Politicians of all sides must set out very clearly how they intend to fund the future health service in a way that is sustainable, without making further damaging cuts to staffing levels.”