In a survey of healthcare in 11 wealthy countries, the UK was only ranked fourth, dropping from first to 2017 and 2014.
And it came only ninth in a comparison of health care outcomes, which includes premature deaths, cancer survival, and infant deaths at birth.
The study, conducted by the US think tank Commonwealth Fund, found that Norway, the Netherlands and Australia were the best performing countries overall, ahead of the UK.
Problems such as access to care and the experiences of low-income groups have been blamed for the NHS slip.
Following an exceptional demand for care during the pandemic, the number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment reached a new record this summer, at 5.1 million people.
The care watchdog last month warned that ‘exceptional’ pressures on the NHS were affecting patient care across England as healthcare workers were pushed to the brink.
“The decline in the UK’s ranking from 1st to 4th is associated with the country’s poor performance in several areas (such as access to care and equity) compared to 2017,” the report said.
The study rated the 11 countries on access to care, process of care, administrative efficiency, equity and health care outcomes.
“Access to care includes measures of the affordability and timeliness of health care. The Netherlands scores the best in this performance area among the 11 countries, ranking first or almost in both sub-areas. Norway and Germany have also performed well in terms of access to healthcare, but all three are outclassed by the UK in terms of affordability, ”the report says.
It ranked the United States last, despite spending significantly more of its gross domestic product on health care than Norway, the Netherlands and Australia.
The United States also came down on all metrics except the process of care, which covers preventative care, safe care, coordinated care, and patient preferences. Here, the United States was ranked second.
The NHS, long considered the envy of the world, was fourth in access to care, administrative efficiency and fairness, and fifth in process of care.
Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at King’s Fund, a UK health think tank, said The Guardian: “According to this report, our health service, which was previously the best in the world, is at risk of falling in the middle of the pack, in large part due to growing delays throughout the system in the ability of people to access quickly taking care.
“We cannot take this under the rug as only a consequence of the impact of the pandemic on patients, staff and services.
“Even before Covid, waiting lists for treatment were already high after a decade of funding freeze and a growing workforce crisis. “
The report states that four characteristics distinguish the top performing countries from the United States:
- They ensure universal coverage and remove financial barriers
- They invest in primary care systems to ensure that high-value services are equitably available in all communities for all.
- They reduce administrative burdens that divert time, effort and expense from improving health
- They invest in social services, especially for children and adults of working age.
This article was changed shortly after its publication on August 5, 2021. An early draft indicated that the UK was leading in accessibility and speed, but not in timelessness.