Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Hey, socialistic medicine isn't all that bad

America is currently being misinformed about the British NHS (National Health Service), as Obama tries to get his healthcare programme approved. I have no wish to interfere in US politics but I feel the horrific lies should be countered. I have somewhat overrun my 300-word limit - blame passion.

Welcome to the Offshore European Gulag (otherwise known as Great Britain) where we put seventy-year-olds on the front step on winter nights and break up their remains for kindling the following morning. Where our hospitals saw off more wrong legs than right (and left) legs. Where the government forces you to pay for health care which it denies you when you get sick. A land racked by plague and runny noses for which our incompetent foreign doctors have no cure. Welcome to socialised medicine and over to your tour guide – Rush Limbaugh!

On the other hand, how about this story on telly last night? A patient in the West Midlands received a transplanted liver from which part was removed and used as a transplant to a baby. A woman in the same hospital who had a liver complaint fatal only to women received a healthy liver and her liver was transplanted to a young lad (coincidentally from my home town, Bradford). All doing well. Tens of thousands of pounds worth of surgery for a small payment deducted from everyone’s pay-cheque..

Vast and wealthy private interests in the USA, egged on by the Republican Party, are attempting to terrify sectors of the American population into rejecting Barack Obama’s health care scheme for the poor by citing what happens under such “communistic” schemes as Britain’s NHS (National Health Service).

As well they might. The NHS is one of the biggest organisations in the world and employs 150,000 people. Inevitably things go wrong in a service that size. Luckily the people who run it are able to improve their performance by copying super-efficient large organisations in the private sector. Like General Motors (Joke, if in rather bad taste).

Not only does the NHS make mistakes it gets a bad press. Newspapers seize on surveys about dirty wards and run them big. It’s quite irrelevant that these newspapers happen to support the Conservative party which is to your Republican party what a meerkat is to a grizzly bear.

The word is out in Britain, the NHS stinks. I was subjected to this opinion only last week. Where was the evidence garnered? I asked. Oh let’s not bother with evidence, the opinion is “prevalent”. Especially in papers owned by the Great Axeman of Evil himself, Rupert Murdoch, who also owns that simon-white source of impartial information, Fox News.

But alas for my informant I know something about his background. Within the last decade he’s had his cataracts done and his prostate set to rights. By the NHS. And the service he received? “First-rate,” he says. Clearly the NHS were trying to change his mind about them but failed miserably.

I cast my mind back over the NHS I know about personally. In my case an endoscopy arranged within a few days and the results provided there and then. The patience of the hospital staff caring for my father-in-law who, maddened by Alzheimer’s, hated the world during his final days. A follow-up on a breast cancer check for my wife conducted with professionalism and the sweetest of sympathy. Yeah, the NHS stinks.

And perhaps the most telling encounter of all. My much wealthier cousin had a private health package and was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. But the surgery did not take place in a private hospital. “Oh no,” said the surgeon, “we’ll use Bart’s (a renowned NHS hospital in central London), the facilities are much better there.”

If labels like “socialised” and “communistic” are applied to health care, usually by people who haven’t the faintest idea what these terms mean, then they are stigmata I will cheerfully bear. Better a live Red than a capitalist dead as a matter of principle. And incidentally I do have experience of US health care and it is superb. My younger daughter was born in Pittsburgh and my Blue Cross/Blue Shield covered it all bar $20. Such a picky amount!

Just one sad moment. The baby was overdue and this led to a forceps delivery which, unlike in NHS London with the elder daughter, I was not allowed to watch. Never mind. Our doctor brought her out to show me and in all innocence and without a hint of accusation I asked about the head bruising. I shall never forget the stricken look on his face. He thought I was complaining and, worse, I might sue. Not in a million years. But might his fear have been a byproduct of a market-led system?

One final comment. An American political analyst interviewed by the BBC last night said Obama’s programme would be a “tough sell” given the state of the US economy. In fact, Britain started to introduce the NHS in 1945 when London and many of our manufacturing facilities had been bombed flat, when most of our merchant shipping fleet was at the bottom of the Atlantic, when we owed the US billions in War Debt (only paid off a few months ago) and when the Cold War was getting into the act. Course, things are much harder for the US now.


The Crow said...

Thank you, BB.

Rouchswalwe said...

Your passion is appreciated. What irks me is that Limbaugh fans listen to his talk show as though HE has experience but do not even think about the appalling state of the military hospitals. And I had better stop there before apoplexy threatens.

herhimnbryn said...


Barrett Bonden said...

You're right about apoplexy; perhaps I'd be better off downstairs watching "Come dancing." Today's Guardian had a piece by an American academic living and working in London. His account of the way the NHS had looked after his terminally ill wife was moving. But his best remark was: "Perhaps it is the absence of fear about becoming ill that is the most important aspect of the system."

marja-leena said...

Thanks for this, BB. There are similar distortions and falsehoods made in the US about Canadian healthcare. Many Americans living in Canada are speaking in favour of our system but their voice seems to be drowned out by the protectors of the insurance corporations. Our system is not perfect but at least everyone is covered without question.

Sir Hugh said...

Journalism as it ought to be: from the heart and not for the sake of it.

The subject is almost too emotive to comment on in terms of style etc., but I would like to say you are getting closer to E.B. White here.

Avus said...

What a quality piece, BB and well worth going over your self-imposed 300 words.
But perhaps I am a bit biased. My daughter-in-law is Senior Sister Midwife at the local hospital and my son, her husband, works on the admin side in the same establishment. My wife is a retired nurse. My mother worked with the mentally disabled.
The NHS has been good to me, removing my cancerous prostate 11 years ago, with solicitous after care, check ups, body scans, etc. I must have cost it double-figure thousands of pounds. I recently reported a brief occurrence of double vision to my doctor. He arranged for a consultant to see me within 10 days and, to make sure, an MRI head scan is arranged for a few weeks time.
We take all this for granted. Your comment, "Perhaps it is the absence of fear about becoming ill" is the telling remark. The American blog "The Front Porch" by Nea (regrettably now closed to the generality) once told her story about her chronic illnesses and how her insurance would not cover her and she could not afford further treatment. It was a case of what she could go without in order to get the consultations and buy the medications.
Yes - like all large organisations the NHS has its faults (said son tears his hair out at times)but I have no complaints.
Why are some Americans so afraid of starting such a scheme which might be even better than ours, being able to learn from our past mistakes?
Well done.

Barrett Bonden said...

M-L: I was aware that Canadian healthcare was also the target for south-of-border criticism. I think it's important to point out that such criticism doesn't come from ordinary Americans but from those with financial interests in paid-for healthcare, from extreme Republicans who have an ideological resentment of government intervention (except when Boeing's civil aircraft gain hidden subsidies via the defence side of Boeing's business), and - I'm sorry to say - right-wing evangelicals - who prate on foolishly about state-imposed euthanasia as if it had anything to do with our NHS. In fact Brits wishing to end their lives have to pay £4000 to Swiss-based Dignitas and those accompanying them from the UK to Switzerland run a theoretical risk of being prosecuted.

Sir Hugh: Your comments are appreciated. But emotion without facts is a sorry weapon.

Avus: Me too. Mrs BB used to be State Registered Nurse and taught me much about the NHS. I could have quoted other examples of peerless treatment I know about. Notably the remarkable day-care my sister-in-law received (including the installation of a between-floors lift) during her decline into hideous motor neurone disease.

A Write Blog said...

To quote one of your responses; 'But emotion without facts is a sorry weapon.'

That sums it up. The NHS gets bounced around by those with a political agenda who use facts selectively to suit their emotional bias.

On both sides.

I'm a user and have found it fine, if a little top-heavy with staff at times.

However, I have never gone in worrying about the quality of service and have always felt safe and comfortable with whatever service I have needed; none of it serious as of yet.

Any huge organistion is going to generate horror stories. They need to be seen aginst the whole.

There has been an interesting piece in the Sunday Times today. Critical of both the UK and US systems and pointing to some of the European ones which seem to be a hybrid of the two.

Hattie said...

Yes, thank you. I would like permission to hand this piece out at a town meeting where our Congresswoman is going to speak on health care.
We have a dire situation on our hands. People are getting sick and dying for lack of the most basic care. There is nothing worthy of the name in the way of public health.
Don't even talk about glasses or dental care.
My dentist would not treat my mother in law when she had toothache. His receptionist said, "We don't want her croaking in the dental chair."
We have the spectacle of the Remote Area Medical Volunteers coming into California and setting up to provide basic care to Americans! Services you would expect would be necessary in Haiti or Guyana, and our fellow citizens need them!
It's an unbelievable disgrace, what's going on.

Barrett Bonden said...

AWB: The NHS isn't perfect and I'd probably agree it was over-burdened with administrators. What I've seen of the French is better. But if you were at the bottom of the heap, living in the West Virginia Panhandle, the NHS would seem perfect.

Hattie: By all means circulate this piece and whatever comments suit you too. Heavy irony in that California is subject to a modern-day equivalent of the Peace Corps.

A Write Blog said...

BB; it was the French system that the Sunday times article held up as the best.

Spadoman said...

At the risk of being labeled a "Blog Whore", I ask you to visit Round Circle, the blog I scribe. I do have an opinion about healthcare.
By the way, it took me nine years to get the healthcare that the government told me I would have because I was a soldier. I had to fight for it tooth and nail.

NOTE: About time I found your blog BB.

Lucy said...

Thanks for this, it makes me feel a little guilty about the times I've professed to be relieved to be here rather than there(UK) where healthcare is concerned. Of course, as with many things, most of our impressions of the UK now are filtered by the British media, and so must be mistrusted. I guess we've had more experience now of the French system than the British. I'm sure there are horror stories here too, we just don't hear them. However, as with crime, I'm not sure the horror stories should be completely dismissed as unimportant, if only because they foster fear and negativity, and perhaps then become self-fulfilling.

Glasses and dental treatment are costly in both places, but I think high street opticians in the UK offer a better service than you get here, where it's one of the few areas inadequately served and with long waiting lists. Our dentist is fantastic and considerably cheaper than we ever had there.

Doctors here are paid less and work harder, nurses are paid a little more, I think. It seemed to us that there is a good esprit de corps between all levels within the hospitals, from specialist surgeons down to ancillary staff. But that might just have been our perception of one hospital.

Despite the image of France as very much a welfare state, it seems to me the private insurance companies really run a lot of the show, and not only in healthcare. In our experience they do so pretty well, but I don't know that I'd trust the likes of Norwich Union or whatever they now call themselves to do so well. We have to pay something for our healthcare, and are happy to do so; it's means-tested and poorer people don't have to. I do sometimes wonder if the British resistance to means-testing and insistence on everything free at point of demand will always be realistic.

I'm afraid I also get mildly cross when I hear about NICE refusing cancer treatment while fertility doctors, who are presumably doing very nicely out of it, encourage the idea that 'infertility is a disease'(from which I don't recall hearing that anyone ever died) and encouraging expensive IVF treatments and similar. But that's a personal and probably unreasonable and ill-informed gripe.

You proabably know quite a lot of this already, and I hope Hattie distributed your post at her meeting!

Well said BB!

Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: Thanks for the rather more detailed report about the French system. My experience there has always been positive (especially the conversational opportunities it offers) and it was supported by what you told us about Tom's treatment. I agree about part-payment where one has the means; I feel guilty about all the stuff that comes free: prescriptions, appliances, etc, as well as winter fuel allowance, bus passes, etc. In a year's time I believe I'll have a free TV licence, to undo all the good work done with the healthcare. However I am doing my best - the duty on wine went up at the last Budget and, as you may have inferred, that is an area in which my contribution is significant.

Julia said...

Well stated!