Research has found that there was a 12.8% increase in deaths in the Soviet Union in the early 1990s after the rapid privatisation of the state-run health service.
A team of UK experts says Britain should take note of the results as the evidence shows that a more steadily controlled takeover could have prevented the surge in deaths. The same mistake, they believe, should be avoided in the UK where the private sector is taking an increasing role in the NHS.
The researchers writing in The Lancet medical journal said: "The policy implications are clear. Great caution should be taken when macroeconomic policies seek radically to overhaul the economy without considering potential effects on the population's health."
Research found that death rates among men of working age in the postcommunist countries of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union increased rapidly between 1989 and 2002.
The increase came as 25% of large state-owned enterprises were transferred to the private sector in just two years, creating a 56% increase in unemployment.
Countries that adopted a slower pace of change, gradually phasing in free-market conditions and developing appropriate institutions, fared much better.