Huge differences in NHS regions29th August 2008
Patients are experiencing wide differences in the service they receive because of separate health policies within England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Analysis conducted by the Health Service Journal has revealed differences in emergency and planned hospital admissions and A&E visits.
It also showed that personal social care is free in Scotland and prescription charges have been scrapped in Wales, while in England the NHS has targeted reducing waiting times for appointments and operations.
However, statistics provided by healthcare information firm CHKS indicate that the variations are now running to such levels that they are affecting basic indicators of health service performance.
A stark indicator came with the 37% rise in A&E attendance in England between 2004-2007 while that figure only rose by 3% in other areas. However, emergency admissions to hospital was highest in Wales. In Northern Ireland, fewer emergency admissions were being discharged in less than a day.
Behind the differences was the handover to devolved assemblies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, which led to different health policies.
Jo Webber, from the NHS Confederation, said the statistics showed that the systems are different, "but not necessarily better or worse."
"We have four diverging systems, but they are still trying to deliver the same thing," she said.
The Department of Health said that each of the devolved administrations had set their own priorities and that it was "right and proper for each NHS to use its own policies and standard operational procedures to meet the differing needs of their national populations."
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