Isn't it excellent that NHS productivity is rising?

A report that productivity in NHS England is rising, rising strongly. Twice as fast as the rest of the economy in fact:

Productivity in the English NHS has grown at twice the rate of the wider economy, despite the government using supposed inefficiencies to justify ever more drastic cuts.

Improvements in survival rates and numbers of patients treated in the health service each year have vastly outpaced investment in staff and budgets, a reportby the Centre for Health Economics at York University found.

Pound for pound the NHS delivered 16.5 per cent more care in 2016/17 than it did in in 2004/05. This compares to productivity growth of just 6.7 per cent for the wider economy.

That’s excellent, of course it is. The question needs to be, well, what is it driving these productivity improvements? Whatever it is we should be doing more of it, obviously.

Unfortunately, the report doesn’t tell us comparative numbers, only those for NHS England:

Over the last twelve years NHS productivity has increased by 16.52%. Productivity growth has been positive, with one exception, since 2009/10, with year-on-year growth averaging 1.30%. Productivity growth between 2015/16 and 2016/17 was 2.86%.

Page 55 gives us a chart of year by year numbers. Elsewhere, we can find the numbers for the NHS for the UK as a whole:

However, while whole economy productivity for the UK only grew by 0.2% a year between 2010 and 2015, productivity for the NHS across the UK grew by a very healthy 1.7% a year. High productivity is essential for economic growth, so a pound spent in the NHS is a pound well spent for the economy.

Over the relevant period the productivity growth in NHS England is higher than that in the NHS for the UK - note we need to look at those deeper figures, not those quoted, to see that. Thus productivity growth in NHS Wales and NHS Scotland must be lower - given relative sizes, much lower - than that in NHS England.

We need just the one more little fact. Internal markets, competition and contracting out have gone much further in NHS England than they have in the other two.

We can and should conclude that NHS England has become more efficient than the other two because it has done more of this marketisation. Thus what we desire is more of this marketisation which increases productivity. After all, the end meaning of greater productivity is that we get more people cured of more things as a result of it, that’s what we’re actually measuring. And why wouldn’t we want more of that?

Markets - some things are just too important not to use them.