A new, 30-nation comparison of health care shows that all but three countries – the USA, Mexico and Turkey – currently provide their populations with universal or near-universal coverage for a core set of health services.

While all nations have made progress in treating serious conditions such as cancer, care for chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes falls short of good practices in too many countries, despite increasing rates of incidence, says the latest annual Health At A Glance report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

This failure is resulting in deteriorating health and higher medical costs, the report warns.

The USA and Canada have good cancer care, screening more people than most other countries and saving the lives of a greater number of cancer patients, it finds. Japan also has higher survival rates for people with cancer than most countries. The Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland and Germany provide good primary care, reducing costly hospital treatment for chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes.

The UK screens more women for breast and cervical cancer than most other developed countries, with 79.4% of eligible women being screened for cervical cancer in 2006 against an OECD average of 64%, and 70.7% for breast cancer - OECD average 62.2%.

However, although survival rates for different types of cancer are improving in the UK, most other OECD countries achieve higher rates. The UK’s five-year relative survival rate for cervical cancer during 2002-2007 was 59.4%, against an OECD average of 65.7%, while for breast cancer it was 78.5%, slightly lower than the OECD average of 81.2%.

The study also examines progress in the provision of acute care for life-threatening conditions such as heart attack and stroke, and finds that fewer than 5% of people hospitalised after a heart attack now die within 30 days of being admitted to hospital. Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway do best, with death rates of only around 3%.

The UK does well in avoiding hospital admissions for people with high blood pressure and certain heart problems, but could improve the treatment of people with asthma and diabetes, it adds.

In-hospital case-fatality rates within 30 days of admission for acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) were higher in the UK (6.3%) than the OECD average (4.9%) in 2007. Here, there were also higher rates of deaths in hospital for both ischaemic (9.0% versus 5.0%) and hemorrhagic stroke (26.3% versus 19.8%) for the year.

Nevertheless, and despite the fact that health care is improving “at astonishing speed” in some areas, no single OECD country provides high quality care in all areas, says the report. “There are opportunities for all countries to improve the performance of their health care system, and making such improvements does not necessarily require higher spending,” said the OECD’s secretary-general, Angel Gurria.

Turning to health spending, the report finds that, at $7.290 per capita in 2007, the USA spends more on health than any other country - almost two and a half times greater than the OECD average of $2,984 when adjusted for purchasing power parity. Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland also spend far more than the OECD average, while at the other end of the scale, health expenditure in Turkey and Mexico was less than one-third the OECD average for 2007.

The UK spent 8.4% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health in 2007, slightly less than the OECD average of 8.9%, while spending per person was $2,992, adjusted for purchasing power parity, which is almost exactly the OECD average. A decade previously, it had been 10% less than the OECD average, says the study; UK per capita health spending over 1997-2007 grew in real terms by 4.9%, higher than the OECD average of 4.1%.

Finally, the report shows that the public sector is the main source of health funding in all OECD countries except Mexico and the USA. In the UK, 82% of health spending was funded by public sources in 2007, well above the average of 73% for OECD countries.