NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 26, 2010

The National Health Service (NHS) -- Great Britain's government-run health care system -- faces extensive cuts.  Some of the most common operations -- including hip replacements and cataract surgery -- will be rationed as part of attempts to save billions of pounds, despite government promises that front-line services would be protected. 

Patients' groups have described the measures as "astonishingly brutal." 

An investigation by the Sunday Telegraph has uncovered widespread cuts planned across the NHS, many of which have already been agreed by senior health service officials.  They include: 

  • Restrictions on some of the most basic and common operations, including hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery and orthodontic procedures.
  • Plans to cut hundreds of thousands of pounds from budgets for the terminally ill, with dying cancer patients to be told to manage their own symptoms if their condition worsens at evenings or weekends.
  • The closure of nursing homes for the elderly.
  • A reduction in acute hospital beds, including those for the mentally ill, with targets to discourage GPs from sending patients to hospitals and reduce the number of people using accident and emergency departments.  


  • Tighter rationing of NHS funding for IVF treatment, and for surgery for obesity.
  • Thousands of job losses at NHS hospitals, including 500 staff to go at a trust where cancer patients recently suffered delays in diagnosis and treatment because of staff shortages.
  • Cost-cutting programs in pediatric and maternity services, care of the elderly and services that provide respite breaks to patients on long-term care.  

The Sunday Telegraph found the details of hundreds of cuts buried in obscure appendices to lengthy policy and strategy documents published by trusts. In most cases, local communities appear to be unaware of the plans. 

The British government has promised to protect the overall budget of the NHS, which will continue to receive above-inflation increases, but said the service must make "efficiency savings" of up to £20 billion (about US $31 billion) by 2014, which would be diverted back to the front line. 

Source: Laura Donnelly, "Axe falls on NHS services," Telegraph, July 24, 2010.

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