The UK’s NHS Meltdown Is a Perfect Illustration of Why Socialism Doesn’t Work

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service is a public, single-payer health care system that is often referred to as a socialist institution. The NHS’s historical failures and the current mayhem afflicting the UK’s public health system should serve as a stark warning to progressives and socialists in America, who consistently advocate for a Medicare-for-all, socialized health care system.

The NHS’s performance over the past decade has steadily slid, according to a study by the The Health Foundation that aggregates patient data and survey responses from 2012 to 2019.

A few of the more eye-popping charts and trends are illustrated below.

Every year, the NHS basically collapses during the winter months when it is overloaded with patients suffering from the flu or respiratory diseases. And yet, this only tracks NHS performance through 2019; things have substantially deteriorated in the past few years during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In December 2022, 54,000 people in England had to wait more than 12 hours for an emergency admission. The figure was virtually zero before the pandemic, according to data from NHS England.

The average wait time for an ambulance to attend a “category 2” condition (stroke, heart attack, etc) exceeded 90 minutes, though the target time is 18 minutes.

There were 1,474 (20%) more excess deaths in the week ending December 30 than the 5-year average.

As the Daily Wire has recently reported, the problems are legion.

The NHS is facing massive staff shortages: “According to the UK Independent, district nurses declined by nearly 50 percent from 2000 to 2014 and 15 percent from 2014 to 2016. The NHS is also looking at the possibility of conscripting “hundreds of doctors from India” and Pakistan as well as requiring doctors to work in the NHS for five years once their training is finished to deal with doctor shortages, particularly in the Accidents and Emergencies (A&E) departments.”

Patients face long wait times: “A report from the Patients Association found that “tens of thousands of” patients seeking routine surgeries had to wait over 18 weeks; there was an 80 percent increase in elective surgeries from 2014 to 2015. Additionally, more major operations, such as hip and knee replacements, had average wait times of over 100 days.”

There are numerous unnecessary deaths under the NHS, and the NHS has a death rate four times higher than the United States following major surgeries.

Dental health is atrocious in many of the UK’s regions; per the UK Telegraph: ““almost half the adult population of England (48 percent) and a third (31 percent) of children have not seen a dentist within two years” and “almost 62,500 people are admitted to hospital in England per year because of tooth decay – three quarters of them, or 46,400, children.” Dental charities that typically do work in the Third World have stepped in to provide private dental care.

Finally, the NHS provides desultory mental health care, with a UK Guardian survey finding that 72 percent of psychiatrists believe mental health care for children under the age of 18 is inadequate (58 percent) or very inadequate (14 percent).

So, it has been established that the NHS is riddled with problems at almost every level. It’s not hard to understand why. A socialized health care system, like any socialist program, disincentivizes work, which explains the labor shortage in terms of quantity and quality. It also limits innovation and entrepreneurship; if you aren’t going to get rewarded via a profit mechanism, what is the point?

Further, there is the corruption aspect. NHS gives the same level of care to everyone in the system–except for those wealthy enough to get extra benefits, a level of corruption and unfairness designed to cater to the elites at the top of the food chain at the expense of the working class. As the Wall Street Journal has reported, “One sign of the severity of this year’s crisis is that more people are speaking openly about a private option. Britons who can afford it buy private health insurance, which generally requires them to use the NHS for routine matters but lets them skip queues for specialist care, physical therapy and the like…This second, better tier of healthcare is embarrassing in a country where the NHS’s supposed egalitarianism is a point of national pride. Now private care is looking like a solution. Some NHS hospitals are offering patients the option to payout-of-pocket for diagnostics or treatments to skip NHS queues, the Observer newspaper reports.”

This is what nearly every socialist regime in history has devolved to. The United States is hardly an example of a perfect health care system, and reform is certainly needed. But if the goal is to let government manage our health care, we’ll end up with a system as bad as the UK’s, or worse.

Jack McPherrin ([email protected]) is a managing editor of, research editor for The Heartland Institute, and a research fellow for Heartland's Socialism Research Center. He holds an MA in International Affairs from Loyola University-Chicago, and a dual BA in Economics and History from Boston College.