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Britain's single-payer health care crisis: NHS cancels 50,000 surgeries amid hospital chaos
NHS has advised United Kingdom hospitals to cancel all non-urgent operations while it struggles to cope with a surge in patients. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Britain's single-payer health care crisis: NHS cancels 50,000 surgeries amid hospital chaos

Britain's National Health Service has ordered hospitals to cancel as many as 55,000 planned surgeries amid chaos from a spike in winter illnesses.

What's the story?

Instructions on Tuesday from NHS Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh called for "all but the most urgent cases" to be canceled until at least February, which includes closing outpatient clinics for weeks, The Telegraph reported.

The jump in flu cases has come at a time when many hospitals had almost reached capacity, and according to The Telegraph, frail patients are "facing 12-hour waits and some units running out of corridor space."

Metro reported that hospital occupancy rates on New Year's Eve were as high as 93.5 percent across the NHS system.

What are NHS doctors saying about the crisis?

Some senior physicians are saying the patient care conditions in England are more like those found in "third-world" countries.

Hospital chief executives are calling it worst winter crisis in 30 years, The Telegraph reported.

Dr. Richard Fawcett, an emergency medicine consultant at Royal Stoke hospital, told The Telegraph it's heartbreaking to see frail and elderly patients lining the hospital corridors.

Fawcett, an Army doctor who has completed three tours in Afghanistan, even tweeted an apology to patients for the poor conditions.


What's happening with the ambulance services?

Record numbers of ambulances are stuck queuing outside emergency departments.

Many ambulance services have declared the highest state of alert, saying their “response standards to potentially life-threatening calls have deteriorated,” The Telegraph reported.

And some are even asking patients who call for an ambulance to find their own way to the hospital.

North East Ambulance Service told The Telegraph it received 19,000 emergency calls in one week, up 25 percent from the same time last year, while also trying to handle a 40 percent increase in non-emergency calls.

Also, more than 20 hospitals have issued "black alerts," the highest level of alert which means the hospital has reached capacity and cannot accept more patients.

Will conditions improve soon?

Not likely.

NHS officials are expecting the demand to increase in coming weeks and doctors are certain conditions will worsen.

"The position at the moment is as bad as I've ever known. We are simply not coping; we were at full capacity before the sorts of pressures that we should be able to manage — like a rise in flu — is pushing us over the edge," Dr. Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, told The Telegraph.

“Things are terrible now, but I am fearful the next few weeks will be horrendous," Scriven added.

What's the problem with the NHS?

There are a number of problems, according to Townhall's report, including an aging population that increases the demand for medical care.

Budget cuts to social services such as home health care have led to record levels of "bed-blocking," which means patients with no medical need for hospitalization remain there because there's no support for home care.

The number of hospital doctors and nurses has risen over the last decade, but the rise hasn't kept up with the demand. Also, a record number of general practitioners closed their offices in 2016, leaving patients displaced to emergency departments for medical care.

And lifestyle factors such as drinking too much alcohol, poor diet, lack of exercise, and childhood obesity are a growing problem that aren't expected to improve in the short term.

Isn't single-payer health care what many Democrats want for the U.S.?

Yes, it is.

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