The Week (US)

No, the doctor will not see you now


Harry de Quettevill­e

Seen your doctor recently? I doubt it, said Harry de Quettevill­e. Today, Britons have to battle simply to get an appointmen­t with some unknown clinician. It wasn’t always this way. In 1948, the year the National Health Service was founded, my mother—then a child with rheumatic fever—was visited every day for six months by her family doctor. Why the decline in service? It’s a numbers issue. The key factor isn’t population growth, because we now have more primary-care doctors per capita. Rather it’s that more of us are “living longer with chronic, complex conditions.” Seventy years ago, men could expect to live to 66, women to 71; today, those figures are 79 and 83. Elderly patients simply need more care. A man in his 80s costs the NHS about 10 times as much as a man in his 30s, and a mere 1 percent of Britons account for 32 percent of all hospital spending. And not only is our population older, it’s also fatter and more prone to mental illness. Until we tackle these underlying health issues, many of them rooted in poverty and inadequate social care, arranging a face-to-face consultati­on with your local doctor isn’t going to get any easier.

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