America Should Take Note of Britain’s Suffering Before Embracing Medicare-for-All

The United Kingdom’s single-payer healthcare system is struggling to retain doctors. More than half of those who work for the country’s National Health Service are thinking about reducing their hours or quitting altogether rather than deal with the 70-year-old Service’s infamously low salaries and heavy caseloads.

The NHS had banked on replenishing its ranks with doctors from abroad. But that effort has failed spectacularly. In 2015, the NHS set out to hire 2,000 foreign general practitioners by 2020. So far, it has recruited just 76 of them. A handful already want out.

This staffing crisis isn’t surprising. Government-run healthcare systems make life miserable for physicians. Shortages in the supply of care are the result, as doctors reduce the number of hours they’ll work or leave the profession altogether. Bright young people, meanwhile, never enter the profession in the first place. And that exacerbates the shortage.

Doctors sympathetic to Medicare for All ought to look across the Atlantic for a preview of the professional misery they’d endure under socialized medicine.

The NHS’s doctor shortage is widespread and severe. As of this past September, the system had 9,000 job openings for doctors and 40,000 for nurses.

As a result, staff are overburdened. More than three-quarters of NHS employees work longer than their contracted hours each week. The United Kingdom has the worst doctor-patient ratio of all EU countries. Many doctors get burnt out trying to cover all of their patients. According to one doctor, it’s not uncommon to find “one newly qualified junior doctor [assigned] to 400 patients on night shifts.”

Tons of patients, terrible pay, subpar facilities — it’s no wonder healthcare professionals don’t want to work under single-payer.

This staffing crisis is harming patients. Eight in 10 NHS workers believe that under-staffing inhibits their ability to provide safe, high-quality care. And nearly half say the staffing shortage has compromised the quality of care on their shifts.

Britons wait hours to receive this subpar care. Last month’s wait times at accident and emergency departments were the worst the NHS has ever recorded. Over 80,000 patients visiting accident and emergency departments waited more than four hours for a bed so that they could be admitted to the hospital. About 600 patients had to wait more than 12 hours.

Waits for cancer patients are up, too. Last year, more than 164,000 patients who were urgently referred by their primary care physician to see a cancer specialist waited over two weeks for their appointment. That’s a 50 percent increase relative to 2017. In 2018, about 4,600 patients idled for more than two months before starting treatment after referral — a 17 percent increase over the previous year.

NHS doctors are stretched so thin, patients must be knocking on death’s door just to be seen. According to one nurse, “basic care is consistently compromised. People are left in pain so that others can receive life-saving treatment.”

American doctors have it far better than their British counterparts, thanks in large part to America’s more market-oriented healthcare system.

More than three-quarters of U.S. physicians say they’re satisfied with their jobs. U.S. doctors are paid much better than their counterparts in the United Kingdom. A generalist physician in this country makes close to $100,000 more than one in Great Britain.

Medicine remains an appealing career in the United States, too. The number of applicants to U.S. medical schools surged 57 percent between 2002 and 2018.

The National Health Service has 70 years’ worth of failures that should dissuade Americans from embracing socialized medicine. Yet Medicare for All has captivated the Democratic Party. Most of those running for the party’s presidential nomination support a government takeover of the U.S. healthcare system.

House Democrats introduced a new Medicare-for-All bill late last month. The bill’s chief sponsors — Rep. Pramila Jayapal. (D-Wash.), who chairs the Medicare for All Caucus, and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) — have already attracted 107 co-sponsors. Several state governments are exploring implementing single-payer systems of their own as well.

Socialized medicine yields poor care for patients and miserable working conditions for doctors. Let’s hope Americans notice the suffering in Britain before embracing Medicare for All here.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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