Is your health safe in the hands of capitalism


Heart disease killed some 300 in every 100,000 people aged 45-64 in Scotland and Northern Ireland and some 240 in every 100,000 of that age in England and Wales. The enormity of these figures can best be appreciated if it is understood that the figure for German is 180, Holland 140, Spain 120 and France 75!

For Britain the story is the same as far as other diseases are concerned. The percentage of people still alive 5 years after being diagnosed as suffering from lung cancer, for instance, is half as much as in France, Germany and Austria and substantially lower than in Spain, Holland, Sweden and Poland. Deaths from respiratory diseases (per 100,000 of population) are three times higher in the UK than they are in Austria, more than double than in France and Sweden and very subtantially higher than in Finland, Holland and Germany. Breast cancer survival rates (5 years from diagnosis) are 66% in the UK, compared to 70% in Spain, 72% in Germany, 74% in Holland, 78% in Finland, 80% in France and 81% in Sweden. Colon cancer survival rates are 41% in the UK as compared to 57% in Holland, 53% in Sweden and France and about 50% in Austria, Germany, Spain and Finland.

What is the reason why Britain’s record is so dismal?

The most important reason is the fact that the NHS has been decimated by Tory and Labour governments alike in their anxiety to keep taxation and public spending at a minimum in order not to impinge on the profits of big business. A cheap workforce means jobs! Cheapness, however, means deprivation.

It is, of course, true that expenditure on health has been increasing in Britain. Between 1973 and 1998, for instance, spending on health as a proportion of GDP rose from 4.6% to 6.7%. This 6.7% figure is, however, the lowest in the EU. Other countries in the EU (a) spend more and (b) provide a larger proportion of it through public rather than private health provision. France, for instance, devotes 8.9% of GDP to healthcare (80% from national insurance), Germany devotes 10.4% (90% from national insurance). The figures for Spain are 7.4% and 78% respectively, and for Sweden 8.6% and 85%.

The UK also has the lowest number of practising physicians per head than any country in western Europe, 1.6 per 1,000, compared to 2.6 in Austria, 2.9 in France, Portugal and Denmark, 3.4 in Germany, 4.2 in Spain and 5.3 in Italy.

Underspending on the NHS means long delays in obtaining advice and treatment, and it is above all these delays which kill people.

Within Britain there is also a huge disparity of provision. Londoners by and large have a much better chance of receiving prompt treatment than people in some other parts of the country. Perhaps this is related to the fact that high sums charged to private patients from all over the world in London’s teaching hospitals enable these to finance their public service to operate efficiently, and thus even indirectly to relieve the pressure on hospitals which do not have a private income.

The latest statistics do not differentiate between rates of death and survival for working-class patients as compared to the relatively affluent. Since the latter are likely to be on private healthcare schemes which enable them to secure prompt treatment, it can only be assumed that the picture for working-class health is even more abysmal than it is for the country as a whole.

It is incredible that there should be thousands of talented and well-qualified young people refused entry to medical schools every year because there aren’t enough places, while at the same time Britain has the lowest number of doctors per head than any other EU country! And this after importing doctors from all over the world!

In a socialist society which gears the economy to meeting the needs of the working class, health is always a top priority. In Cuba or the DPRK, for instance, there is never any question of waiting months for a heart operation or a cancer operation which is needed straight away, although such waits are the norm in wealthy imperialist Britain.

It is clear, however, that even capitalism is capable of doing better than is being achieved in Britain at present, and we demand that immediate steps be taken to double the number of doctors in training and substantially to increase the proportion of GDP spent on the NHS, funding the increases through higher tax on mega salaries, capital gains and the unearned income of people capable of work.