English National Health Services Savings Plan May Have Helped Reduce The Use Of Three Low-Value Procedures
Author: Sophie Coronini-Cronberg, Honor Bixby, Anthony A. Laverty, Robert M. Wachter, Christopher Millett
The pressure to contain health expenditures is unprecedented. In England a flattening of the health budget but increasing demand led the National Health Service (NHS) to seek reductions in health expenditures of 17 percent over four years. The spending cuts were to be achieved through improvements in service quality and efficiency, including reducing the use of ineffective, overused, or inappropriate procedures. However, the NHS left it to the local commissioning (or funding) organizations, known as primary care trusts, to determine what steps to take to reduce spending. To assess whether the initiative had an impact, we examined six low-value procedures: spinal surgery for lower back pain, myringotomy to relieve eardrum pressure, inguinal hernia repair, cataract removal, primary hip replacement, and hysterectomy for heavy menstrual bleeding. We found significant reductions in three of the six procedures—cataract removal, hysterectomy, and myringotomy—in the program’s first year, compared to prior years’ trends. However, changes in the rates of all examined procedures varied widely across commissioning organizations. Our findings highlight some of the challenges of making major budget cuts in health care. Reducing ineffective spending remains a significant opportunity for the US health care system, and the English experience may hold valuable lessons.