HBI Deals+Insights / News

Blog: Who has the worst waiting lists?

NHS England’s staggering 6.6m waiting list almost certainly had led to a 39% rise to 69,000 in patients paying to go private in the fourth quarter of 2021. What’s worse – only about two thirds of it is thanks to the pandemic. Ireland has an even worse per capita waiting list but what about other European countries?

For our infographic of the week, we could only find five other countries or regions which had kept count of the number of patients on their waiting lists. When we tried to dig around to find other countries who kept the numbers (after all, it couldn’t just be British eccentricity) we got some polite, but quite curt responses saying waiting lists were only useful as a political tool. Waiting times were important, but waiting lists were not.

Perhaps this says something about the comparative merits of Bismarckian and Beveridge/NHS systems. Looking at waiting times last December, HBI reported these had increased due to the pandemic. However it’s striking that all of the countries included were either NHS systems like Ireland, or systems established in ex-soviet countries. Figures on Bismarckian Germany and France were nowhere to be found, and figures on the Netherlands showed, that on average, most surgeries had waiting lists of under 3 months, with transgender care and stomach, intestine and liver diseases being the only exceptions.

This is not to say that the NHS is bad and Bismarck is good. Many of the academics we spoke to pointed out problems with insurance-based systems as well, such as overactivity – particularly the wrong overactivity. But it does raise the question as to why NHS systems need, or feel they need, these kinds of figures.

Perhaps the waiting lists in the UK are so gargantuan that they need a number just to focus minds – its so staggering it doesn’t need to be compared to prove something is drastically wrong. Perhaps the only countries who feel the need to compile waiting lists are those with a waiting list problem. On balance it appears that Bismarckian systems do not have long waits. Google “hospital waiting lists” in German and the only articles you find are on the dire UK situation!

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Joe Quiruga or call 0207 183 3779.