UK healthcare system struggles in international index.

surgeon with instruments

The UK’s healthcare system is falling way behind similar countries in key medical care indicators such as treatable mortality, as well as infant and maternal mortality.

Treatable deaths amongst the highest in UK healthcare system

The report, compiled from OECD data by Civitas, follows the same methodology of one commissioned by the BBC in 2018. It aims to compare several healthcare statistics between high income nations and ranks them accordingly.

The report finds that the UK healthcare system consistently ranks lower than other nations such as Japan, Finland, and The Netherlands in several care quality indicators. It looks at key indicators such as treatable mortality rates, stroke mortality rates as well as rates of survival for various cancers.

Perhaps most worryingly for patients, the UK health care system ranks second worst in treatable deaths. In 2016 (latest figures), there were 69 instances of ‘treatable’ deaths. These deaths are recorded where ‘successful medical intervention’ may have saved their lives.

In many cases, a successful claim could be made due to medical negligence on the part of the hospital, or its staff.

Furthermore, the colon cancer five-year survival rate of 60 per cent was the lowest of 18 countries. Behind nations such as Spain, Denmark, France, and Austria.

This is not the only instance of the UK system taking last place in the rankings. The UK and NHS finish bottom for survival rates of strokes, heart attacks. They also finish second bottom for lung cancer and stomach cancer, with survival rates of 13.3% and 20.7% respectively.

For context, Japan has the highest survival rate of stomach cancer at 60.3%. It is also worth nothing that Japan spends just £192 more per person on healthcare, compared with the UK.

Perhaps most concerning is the fact that the UK’s healthcare spending as a percentage of GDP matches the average for competing countries, indicating that increased funding may not be the solution.

Where does the UK health system excel?

The UK comes first for just one ranking factor, foot and leg amputation rates for diabetes admissions. Just 3 in every 100,000 will require amputation, compared with bottom placed Austria with a rate of 13.2.

The UK also has a below average rate of diabetes admissions to hospital of just 80.9 per 100,000. It is important to note however that according to the OECD, the UK has a much lower rate of the disease compared with other countries.

Infant and maternal mortality rates in the UK

Birth Injury solicitors, Blackwater law have taken a further look into the rates of infant and maternal mortality rates in the UK, in comparison to similar countries.

Infant Mortality

In the instance of neonatal mortality (deaths of a child within a month) the UK has 2.8 deaths per 1,000 live births. This falls slightly below the average of 2.4. At the top of the rankings, Japan has a neonatal mortality rate of just 0.9 per 1,000.

In cases of perinatal mortality (death occurs within a week) the UK has a rate of 6.1 deaths per 1,000. This also falls well below the average of 5.3. Again, Japan tops the rankings with just 2.3 per 1,000.

During the previous report, co-authored by the Health Foundation (link), it was noted that ‘UK has consistently higher rates of mortality that the average of our comparator countries on both measures’ [neonatal and perinatal mortality rates] … and that ‘a study recently found that different care might have made a difference in 80% of child mortality cases in a UK sample.’

It is important to note however that there several factors that influence these numbers, such as inequality and maternal age.

Maternal Mortality

Maternity safety has been of particular concern in the last year. The shocking findings of the Donna Ockenden report in March 2022 found nine instances of preventable maternal deaths across the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS trust. We have covered the Donna Ockenden report in a previous article here.

The report covered incidents between 2000-2019 and found ‘catastrophic failings’ that led to preventable deaths of mothers.

Whilst the report is limited to just one trust, the high maternal mortality rates across the UK could suggest that it may be the tip of the iceberg.

Per 100,000 live births, more than six mothers will pass away while pregnant, during or within 42 days of the birth. This is far above the average of 5.1, and a long way from neighbouring countries like Ireland. There, the maternal mortality rate is just 1.6.

Perhaps most shocking of all is that since 2005, there has been a maternal mortality rate increase of 14%. Nearly twice the average increase of 8.5%

Birth Injury Claims

Whilst it is difficult to correlate, the report could make for worrying reading when dealing with birth injury compensation claims.

Increased incidents of infant and maternal mortality could suggest an increase in the likelihood of serious birth injury to both children and mothers, due to poor care.

Injuries at birth can cause a wide range of problems such as cerebral palsy, or physical injuries to the babies or mother’s body. In some cases, there could be scope to make a compensation claim if the hospital, or midwife are deemed to have been negligent.


Blackwater Law successfully represented the family of baby Blake in making a midwife negligence claim after the community midwife failed to notice a severe medical abnormality.

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