Britisk politiker: Vi kan lære meget af Danmarks sundhedssystem

DEBAT: Sundhed bliver det helt store tema i den kommende valgkamp i Storbritannien. Og her har briterne meget at lære af Danmark, skriver Labour-politiker Meg Hillier.

Af Meg Hillier (Labour)
Member of Parliament

With healthcare set as the battleground for this year’s UK General Election there are important lessons to learn from Denmark.

Denmark and the UK have probably the most similar health systems within the EU. Both are free at the point of delivery, both are driven by primary care and both are grappling with the cost of the ageing population and the future of specialist care.

The recently appointed head of The National Health Service (NHS England), Simon Stevens, laid a challenge to politicians about the investment need – about £8bn each year over the next five years or there will be a shortfall of £30bn in the next Parliament.

Stevens’ intervention was politically well timed (he is a former aide to Tony Blair) and has already led to a bidding war among the main political parties. But the future of our health service is more than about absolute numbers of nurses and doctors (which form the core of the Labour opposition party’s health pledge) or about straight cash (which current Conservative chancellor [Editor note: finance minister] George Osborne has already pledged even under current fiscal austerity.

Behind Stevens’ bid there is a genuine recognition of the need for wider reforms. But there is no real appetite in the UK for more “top down reorganisation” which has become a by-word for all that is wrong with our healthcare system.

Beneath these headlines rage the battles over the role of private healthcare providers, the complex and expensive procurement and tendering process, the future of our hospital system and the long term challenges as our population ages.

So, many of the same debates that have taken place in Denmark.

Important lessons from Denmark
There are three key lessons which Britain can learn from Denmark: Firstly, the bold focus on delivering 21 acute hospitals with centres of excellence; the role of digital technology and your approach to working with the private sector.

In the UK the political battles over acute hospitals are heated and even led to an independent candidate elected as an MP because of the threat of a local closure. But the reality is there needs to be greater concentration of key specialisms to drive up quality and survival rates in the UK. The argument was won for stroke centres, and 300 lives a year are being saved as a result. But both politically and clinically we should examine how Denmark is achieving its hospital programme.

Digital and tele health are taking off at a faster pace than in the UK. Bold political leadership, the necessity of saving money and the opportunity afforded by the building of brand new tele friendly hospitals has undoubtedly contributed.

While there is strong public resistance in the UK to having private companies running the patient interface there is much scope for specialist tele health companies to provide tools to enhance patient care, ease pressure on professionals and, potentially, save money and time.

Junior UK health minister, George Freeeman MP, launched the UK’s innovative medicines and health technology review in January. I shall be urging him to look at Denmark – including the new acute hospital in Aarhus with its logistics systems and smart design and the models of community care being taken up by councils including in Odense.

We need to spend more money
Pressure on the UK health system is evidenced by an overstretched ambulance service, long waits for GP appointments and delays accessing emergency care. We need to be looking at all solutions. We will need to spend more money, but this must be spent wisely and we need to empower commissioners to be aware of system solutions as well.

I was surprised to discover, for example, that the UK Government’s Department of Health does not routinely conduct international comparisons on costs. I have urged it to look at the cost of hospital building in Denmark (which on one set of figures appears to be 40 per cent less than in the UK).

But whether British or Danish we need to look at the best solutions and systems internationally if we are going to provide a health care system resilient enough to support our ageing populations at a cost that is affordable to our taxpayers.

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