There’s been much talk of an NHS crisis in recent months, and you can understand why. Waiting times are up across the board – as the charts below indicate.
There are more than seven million people waiting for hospital treatment. The proportion of cancer patients waiting less than 62 days for treatment after a GP referral is less than 55%. The ambulance response time for category 2 calls exceeded 1 hour 30 minutes last December. And the number of patients waiting more than 12 hours in A&E is over 30,000 – compared to zero just a few years ago.
This is despite the fact that staff numbers have been rising consistently for the past decade. Compared to 2010, there are now 17% more nurses and almost 40% more doctors working in the NHS.
Interestingly, mortality itself has not risen. We can see this by plotting the monthly age-standardised mortality rate in England as a percentage of the pre-pandemic average – that is, the average from 2015–2019.
Since the summer of 2021, the line has been pretty much flat. Mortality in England is neither worsening nor improving. The ASMR in the first five months of the year was about the same as in 2017 – which is higher than in 2014 but lower than in 2015. (If mortality were improving, the line would be trending downwards.)
This is both good news and bad. It’s good news because it means that rising waiting times and declining patient satisfaction aren’t yet translating into higher death rates. It’s bad news because it means we’ve made essentially no progress in lowering death rates for the last decade.
British living standards tell a similar story. Real GDP per capita in 2021 was barely higher than in 2007 – just before the Great Recession. So Britons are living no longer than they were in 2014 and are no richer than they were in 2007.
In the grand sweep of history, 10–15 years of stagnation isn’t particularly remarkable. But it is the longest period of stagnation since the Second World War. And one political party has been in power for most of it. While I doubt that Labour would have done a better job, the Conservatives have little to be proud of.
With death rates and living standards stagnating, the NHS in crisis and net migration running at over 600,000, you could almost say they’re doing a lousy job in Government. So as little faith as I have in Labour, I’m not surprised they’re ahead in the polls. “You’ve never had it so good”, Harold MacMillan told voters in 1957. “You’ve never had it so mediocre,” Rishi Sunak might tell them today.