One of the cardinal virtues that the NHS is supposed to possess is a high degree of equality. The system clearly fails to deliver quality care relative to other developed country healthcare systems on a host of measures from control of infection to cancer survival to mortality amenable to healthcare. However, it is felt to be an expression of social solidarity that, quality aside, we are all in the same boat with regard to healthcare. This principle has been enshrined in the World Health Organisation's ranking of healthcare systems but in a very imperfect manner that was more focussed on how the system was funded and allocated resources than on the actual results for people from different socio-economic groups.
There is a debate to be had on whether equality, as opposed to generally higher standards, is the right objective for a health service. However, the Telegraph reports a Civitas study showing that even on the measure of equality the NHS is failing to deliver. Rates of heart bypass operations, for example, are 30 per cent lower in the poorest groups. The middle class are proving much better able to play the system and this translates into better standards of care. "Although the poor, the least educated and ethnic minorities visit their GP more often than more affluent, well-educated people, they are less likely to be referred to a specialist." Even if equality is treated as all-important the NHS is still failing.