UK Prime Minister Calls Emergency Meeting on Struggling Health System

On Saturday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak convened a meeting at 10 Downing Street in London to discuss the burgeoning health care crisis in the U.K. The gathering brought together ministers, medical experts, and National Health Service (NHS) officials to share ideas on how to address the problem.

The primary issue is a crisis in capacity, made worse by the easing of pandemic restrictions, an influx of winter viruses, and a post-Brexit shortage of European workers in the U.K. Thousands of hospital beds are being occupied by fit-to-discharge patients who can’t be released because of a lack of places for long-term care. This has led to ambulances stuck outside hospitals and lengthy delays for those needing emergency care.

In addition, health care workers are being asked to continue working while not being offered pay increases to match the soaring cost of living. Nurses and other employees have gone on strike in a rise of disaffection toward the Conservative Party, in power since 2010. They allege the government has underfunded the NHS or attempted to privatize it by stealth.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, noted that high levels of flu and COVID-19 are driving the current problems, but “the cause is decades of under-investment in staffing, capital and the lack of a long-term solution to the capacity-crunch facing social care.”

Health leaders have warned that the crisis facing Britain’s NHS is typical of many industrialized countries with longer life spans, aging populations, and rising health care demands. But France, too, has been struggling with its own health system woes, prompting French President Emmanuel Macron to recently announce plans to overhaul it.

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