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Dr Gro Harlem-Brundtland, World Health Organization
"The UK can do better"
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Prime Minister Tony Blair in the House of Commmons
"It is 13th out of over 190 countries"
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Wednesday, 21 June, 2000, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
UK health care ranks 18th in world
Doctor with patient
French doctors are in plentiful supply
The first ever "league table" of world health care places the UK in 18th place - and ninth in Europe.

This means the UK trails behind countries like Greece, Malta and Oman, but is ahead of Germany and the US.

France heads the league table, which was produced by the World Health Organisation, while war torn Sierra Leone came in last.

The rating is based on a comprehensive assessment of medical treatment, including factors such as the population's overall health, health inequalities and the health service's responsiveness to people's needs

It even took into account the.availability of medical insurance and pharmacies.

Italy comes second in the WHO league table, with Singapore, Spain, Austria and Japan among other countries in the top 10.

Making the diagnosis

The study echoes the findings of opinion polls carried out in France, where people consistently register a high degree of satisfaction with their level of health care.

By and large, hospitals are clean and efficient, waiting lists are short, general and specialist doctors are in plentiful supply.

The UK spends just 5.8% of its gross domestic product - the total income earned by the nation - on healthcare.

This compares to 9.8% in France and 10.5% in Germany - and 13.7% in the US.

The government has said it would like to see the percentage of GDP spent on health to rise to the European average.

At present this is just over 8%, and means the government would have to pump many extra billions into the service.

Overall health good

In the separate categories, the WHO acknowledged the good overall health levels in the UK, ranking it ninth in the world.

However, the "responsiveness" of the health system left it in 27th place.

Britain also does well for "fairness of financial contribution" to the health service, ranking 8th.

Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Director General of the WHO, said: "The health and well-being of people around the world depend critically upon the performance of the health systems that serve them.

"Yet there is wide variation in performance, even among countries with similar levels of income and expenditure."

Independent think tank the King's Fund said that although the league table was useful to governments, there were many factors which could skew the results.

Analyst John Appleby said: "It may be, for example, that France does better, on average, than Britain because its population has a better diet and lower rates of smoking among women.

"But we still need to know much more about which parts of the system are the most effective, and cost-effective, in improving health."

Health Secretary Alan Milburn welcomed the report.

He said: "It provides a ringing endorsement of the principles of the NHS - free and fair care for all."

"The WHO analysis confirms our own analysis of the strengths of the NHS. The report shows that we have much to be proud of."

Speaking in the House of Commons, prime minister Tony Blair said the fact that NHS was ranked 18th out of 190 and debunked the idea that Britain had a Third World health service.

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