Annals of Government Medicine

Britain’s National Health Service has taken a lot of heat because patients often wait a year or more for operations, and many die in the meantime. The NHS could have responded to this criticism by making its operations more efficient so that waiting times could be reduced, like a private company would, for fear of losing business to competitors. But in government medicine, such incentives are lacking. So the NHS did the next best thing: it started rotating people out of the hospital prematurely to make room for new patients, thereby reducing the new patients’ waiting time, but increasing the likelihood that the prior round of patients would need to return. The Telegraph reports:

The number of NHS patients who have to undergo emergency readmission to hospital within a month of being discharged has increased by more than three quarters in the last decade….

More than 660,000 people were brought back to hospital last year within 28 days of leaving, statistics show, sparking allegations that patients are being “hurried through the system” so the NHS can meet waiting-list targets. …

The figures show that 620,054 patients had to be readmitted in 2009-10 – compared to just 348,996 a decade before, a 78 percent increase. Over the past five years, there has been a 31 percent rise and a five percent increase on the previous 12 months.

Statistics like these speak for themselves. Obviously, it is not changes in diseases or new developments in medicine that drive such stunning changes. Rather, the cause is a change in bureaucratic priorities. This is life under government medicine–a shell game in which the paramount objective is not treatment of patients, but perpetuation of a bureaucracy.

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