When government-run health care systems encounter difficult problems, the bureaucrats ”solve” them by imposing new regulations and guidelines. Thus, when wait times in British emergency rooms (or A&Es, as they refer to them across the pond) became a national scandal, the government decreed that no one would wait for more than four hours.
Unfortunately for the patients, this command from on high had no effect on the underlying causes of the ever-lengthening wait times. So, the only effect of the four-hour target was the creation of perverse incentives. The NHS trusts knew they couldn’t meet the targets, but they didn’t want to incur the wrath of the Government. The Daily Mail reports the result:
Thousands of people a year are having to wait outside accident and emergency departments because trusts will not let them in until they can treat them within four hours, in line with a Labour pledge.
Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats show that last year 43,576 patients waited longer than one hour before being let into emergency units.
Why are wait times so egregious? Because, in order to keep physicians from jumping ship over low pay and long hours, the Government gave GPs a little more control over the latter. This created a shortage of after-hours GP care, so patients end up heading to the A&E.
And what do the health care bureaucrats say about all of this? Why, they deny it, of course. They claim that the figures actually mean something else than what they appear to mean. In the end, however, there will probably be a special inquiry and a blue ribbon study.
At least that will give those folks languishing in the ambulances something to read as the hours tick slowly by.