This winter, a daily drip of grim stories from Britain’s health care system has triggered a flood of alarm.
An 81-year-old woman with chest pains died while waiting four hours for an ambulance. A young woman in pain lay for five hours on a hospital floor. Patients across the country have been treated in corridors or stuck in ambulances because there are no free hospital beds.
These are not the usual winter aches and pains of a health service in heavy demand, medics and experts say, but a nationwide crisis triggered by years of underfunding. And Britain’s decision to leave the European Union next year is making the situation worse for the National Health Service, a state-funded system that’s both revered and criticized.
“It’s not like there’s a few bad apples or poorly performing organizations,” said John Appleby, chief economist at health think-tank the Nuffield Trust. “It’s completely systemic.”
Few institutions are more central to British life than the NHS, founded in 1948 in a country determined to build a fairer society out of the ruins of war. It remains a source of pride for many that Britain provides free health care to all, funded through taxation.
It’s also an unwieldy behemoth that employs more than 1 million people and struggles to cope with rising demand.