Poor data masks evidence on NHS efficiency across UK

Poor data collection means that, despite huge variations in NHS spending across the UK, officials still cannot determine which policies are most cost-efficient, a report has warned.

The National Audit Office (NAO) looked at variation in health spending, staff numbers and service delivery across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

In Northern Ireland, £2,106 is spent per person per year on health services, more than in Scotland (£2,072), Wales (£2,017) and England (£1,900).

Both Northern Ireland and Wales have the lowest number of GPs per person with 65 GPs per 100,000 people, while England and Scotland have 70 and 80, respectively. The average hospital length of stay varies from 4.3 days in England to 6.3 days in Wales.

The NAO’s report concluded: ‘We found limited availability and consistency of data across the four nations, restricting the extent to which meaningful comparisons can be made between the health services of the UK.  

The report’s authors said that, without an overarching performance measures, they ‘cannot draw conclusions about which health service is achieving the best value for money’.

‘Where comparative data are available, we found that no one nation has been consistently more economic, efficient or effective across the indicators we considered,’ the report said.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said the report had been published when the UK was ‘under increasing pressure to use resources more efficiently’.

‘Funding is tighter while the demand for healthcare continues to grow as a result of an ageing population and advances in drugs and technology,’ he said.

Mr Morse said that it would be valuable for health departments to investigate their variations in performance and ‘identify how they can learn from each other to achieve better value for money for taxpayers and better care for patients'.

The report also found significant variation in GP pay and workload. The average taxable income in 2009 ranged from £89,500 in Scotland to £109,400 in England. GPs in Wales see 137 patients each week (137), more than their counterparts in England (132), Northern Ireland (126) and Scotland (112).

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