United Kingdom - Health

Life expectancy has increased from about 50 years at birth in 1900–10 to about 74.7 years for men and 80.2 years for women in 1999. Rising living standards, medical advances, the growth of medical facilities and their general availability, and the smaller size of the family are some factors in the improved health of the British people. Deaths from infectious diseases have been greatly reduced, although the proportion of deaths from circulatory diseases—including heart attacks and strokes—and cancer has risen. Infant mortality has decreased from 142 per 1,000 live births in 1900–02 to 6 in 2000. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 11.3 and 10 per 1,000 people. A high portion of women aged 15–44 used birth control in the mid-1990s (82%).

A comprehensive National Health Service (NHS), established in 1948, provides full medical care to all residents of the United Kingdom. NHS delivers health care through 129 health authorities, each of which receives money from the government and then purchases a preset amount of treatment each year from hospitals. Included are general medical, dental, pharmaceutical, and optical services; hospital and specialist services (in patients' homes when necessary) for physical and mental illnesses; and local health authority services (maternity and child welfare, vaccination, prevention of illness, health visiting, home nursing, and other services). The patient is free to choose a family doctor from any in the service, subject to the physician's acceptance. General tax revenues meet most of the cost of the NHS; the remainder is paid through National Health Insurance contributions and charges for certain items, including eyeglasses and prescription drugs. Compared with other OECD countries, the UK's per capita expenditure on health care is low. In the United Kingdom, 6.9% of the GDP went to health expenditures as of 1999.

All specialist and auxiliary health services in England are the direct responsibility of the secretary of state for social services. In Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland the corresponding services and administrative bodies are under the respective secretaries of state. All hospitals, except a few run mostly by religious orders, are also in the NHS. In 1991, the United Kingdom implemented major reforms in its health care services, including improvements in virtually all facets of the program. Areas of concern as of 1999 included incidence of coronary/stroke, cancer, accidents, mental illness, and HIV/AIDS. In the mid-1990s more than 276,000 deaths per year were related to cardiovascular disease. Smoking prevalence was similar between men (28%) and women (26%) over 15 years old. Half the British population is currently overweight. These high rates have been attributed to a sedentary lifestyle during leisure time.

The NHS is has been undergoing restructuring; increased numbers of NHS hospitals are being decentralized by conversion to NHS Trust, established in 1991. NHS costs Britain's taxpayers more than $73 billion per year. An aging population, costlier treatments, and a budget crisis have forced the cancellation of non-emergency treatment at some centers. The number of beds available is below the level of demand, causing long waits for treatment. As of 30 September 1996, 1,061,532 persons were awaiting inpatient treatment, of whom 77.4% had been waiting for up to five months, 21.2% for 6–11 months, and 1.4% for more than 12 months.

As of 1999, there were an estimated 1.8 physicians and 4.1 hospital beds per 1,000 people. The immunization rates for children under one year of age were as follows in 1990–95: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 92%; polio, 94%; measles, 92%; and tuberculosis, 75%. In 1999, the rates for DPT and measles were, respectively, 93% and 91%. In 1999, the incidence of tuberculosis was 12 per 100,000 people. Since 1982, to help control the spread of AIDS, the government has funded and implemented measures for blood testing, research, public education, and other social services relating to the disease. As of 1999, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS was estimated at 20,800 and deaths from AIDS that year were estimated at 450. HIV prevalence was 0.1 per 100 adults.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: