NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

SOUTH AFRICA SHOULD AVOID BRITAIN'S PUBLIC HEALTH CARE MISTAKES

May 20, 2008

Two South African health care bills would allow the country's health minister not only to set prices for every health-related product sold, but also to decide which products can be sold at all, say Philip Stevens, director of policy at International Policy Network, and Eustace Davie, director of the Health Policy Unit, a division of the Free Market Foundation.

But even in wealthy countries such as Britain, it has not been demonstrated that a state monopoly can provide quality health care.  For instance:

  • Research shows British cancer patients are less likely to survive five years after diagnosis than anywhere in Europe.
  • British stroke patients suffer the worst outcomes among peer countries, despite spending as much on care.
  • In 2005, the Nuffield Trust reported that mortality from heart disease in the United Kingdom was worse than in every comparable European country.

This is unsurprising when one considers how poorly the NHS employs new medical technologies.  According to Sweden's Karolinska Institute:

  • Britain is below average for the uptake of innovative oncology drugs; such drugs reduce both the amount of time patients need to spend in hospital and their chance of dying.
  • Rates of use of other new drugs and technologies such as CT scanners are also far below those of peer countries.

Instead of destroying the private sector, South Africa should learn from Britain's dismal experience with socialized medicine.  The government's mission should be to make the private sector more accessible to the poor, be it by contracting, vouchers or social insurance.  As Britain shows, monopolies kill. South Africa should not repeat its mistakes.

Source: Philip Stevens and Eustace Davie, "South Africa: Country Should Avoid Britain's Public Health Mistakes," allAfrica.com, May 19, 2008.

 

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