British Physicians Are Ignoring National Rules, Refusing Patients Vital Operations

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British hospitals are denying patients vital surgeries by rationing certain operations against the government’s orders, The Guardian reports.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service, a single-payer health care system which has won the applause of liberal pundits and the Obama administration’s favorite health care administrators, is embroiled in yet another scandal about poor health care, according to an investigation by the Royal College of Surgeons.

The nationalized health care system employs clinical commissioning groups — smaller, physician-led bodies called CCGs — to run NHS services on a local level. But 73 percent of the groups don’t follow the U.K’s national rules on hip replacement surgeries, according to the report, raising questions about whether individual hospitals are following national regulations in other areas as well.

Almost half of the physicians groups require patients to be in significant pain and immobile before they’ll operate, according to the report, against NHS policy. The groups are charged with keeping the National Health System’s costs down and have been under increased pressure as the single-payer system’s costs have skyrocketed. The NHS faces a “financial crisis” as soon as next year according to British health experts, The Independent reported earlier this year.

The surgery restrictions may have been partially due to funding pressures, but state officials denied that the rationing was solely due to budgets.

“To insinuate that their motivation is purely financial is wrong,” said Steve Kell, co-chair of the national organization of clinical commissioners.

“Ensuring patients get the best possible care against a backdrop of increasingly squeezed finances is one of the biggest issues CCGs face,” added Amanda Doyle, the organization’s other co-chair. “We know that clinical commissioners are already working hard to improve local services by making responsible, clinically-led decisions in partnership with [general practitioners,] patients and providers.”

State officials said physicians were attempting to make sure that surgery was the best option for the patient, but the Royal College’s report indicates that many British patients were left in debilitating pain while they waited.

“This report seems to show that local commissioners are imposing arbitrary rules governing access to some routine surgery,” said Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons. “The motivation may not be financial but it is clear that some CCGs do not commission services using clinically accepted, evidence-based guidance.”

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Sarah Hurtubise