Worst of both worlds

I hear the ‘merkins are vigorously debating proposed healthcare reforms, and some of them are holding up our NHS as an illustration of what’s wrong with socialised healthcare.  And that a lot of nonsense is being talked.  Now apparently Daniel Hannan (a UK MEP) has appeared in the debate, talking of shortcomings of the NHS.  I don’t know what he said, but last time he was in the news he was talking sense!

From my experience of the NHS, I can confidently assure our transatlantic cousins: yes it is the worst of both worlds.  We get no choice but to pay vast amounts for it in our taxes.  Yet if you have the misfortune to need health care, it’s a complete lottery, and you could get told to **** off.  And that’s not just rationing of expensive treatments I’m talking about!

I have one incident in particular in mind.  Just under two years ago, I had a serious medical scare: my eyesight went from normal to very poor indeed.  Within 48 hours it reached a point where I was bumping in to people on the pavement, and couldn’t sustain reading a book for more than a few words.

Now I’d call such rapid deterioration a medical emergency.  But apparently our NHS wouldn’t.  My NHS GP (“General Practitioner”, aka family doctor) couldn’t give me an appointment for a full two weeks (!), and the NHS eye hospital couldn’t see me without a referral from a GP.  Great!

So of course I paid out of my own pocket (a few years earlier, that would’ve been my food budget for the whole year).  OK, I don’t begrudge the optician his charges, but I seriously begrudge having to pay for the NHS when it’s simply not there when you need it.

I guess next time I get ill, I’ll just have to plan it in advance and make arrangements.

I’ve no idea whether Obama’s plans look anything like our NHS, and unfortunately his opponents clearly include some serious nutcases.  But if anyone sensible is listening, steer well clear of an NHS!

Posted on August 14, 2009, in healthcare, nhs, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. While I don’t necessarily disagree with you about the U.K. NHS, I’d simply point out that upwards of 40 million Americans have no medical insurance *whatsoever*. They would regard a British or Canadian system of health care to be an absolute godsend. A substantial number of Americans are also seriously under-insured and are just one major illness way from bankruptcy. Since for historical reasons U.S. health insurance is frequently tied to employment (at larger firms), most Americans are one job loss away from joining the ranks of the uninsured (individual health insurance is outrageously expensive and unavailable if you have any pre-existing health conditions …).

  2. I must admit that it’s a scary story. We are lucky enough in France to have a ‘socialized’ system, the one who make Republicans freak out… However, the system is pretty efficient, as it’s a mix of private practitioners and public hospitals.

    At the end of the day, *everyone* can be took in charge for almost no money, whether you are rich or poor. Even if you are living in the streets ! And you don’t have to wait 2 weeks.

    The most interesting part of it is that we spend something around 11.5% of the GDP for out health system, compared to US 17%. Something must be wrong … 🙂

  3. Whilst I agree there is a lot of nonsense in the debate, the NHS is relatively inexpensive. In 2008 8.4% of GDP compared to the figures Emmanuel mentioned you’ll see we spend a lot less on health care. I did the figures recently and the median Brit is spending around 1500 a year in taxes for the NHS.

    So whilst it maybe fair to complain it may not represent good value, I don’t think you can complain it is “vast amounts of our taxes”. Indeed I suspect if we met French levels of health spending the system might be comparable in quality to French healthcare.

    Hannan’s comments sounded like a rant, the other Tory MEP to comment (Helmer) made the very reasonable point that he’d suggest the Americans look at other European systems providing Universal health care. The French system is widely admired, and not radically different in design from some of the current US state health care (Medicare), so it would seem natural to for them to look first at the French system.

    Myself and my family have quite a wide experience of the NHS, and I have to say care is broadly good, and mostly provided from a solid evidence base and sensible practices. However there are areas which are appalling which would not be tolerated in a private, or semi-private system.

    Some of these issues won’t be quick to fix – lack of midwives. On the other hand though things that can be solved quickly by cash often have been – just look at the nice new women’s health centre at Exeter. Building has been catching up under new Labour.

    Your GP would offer you an appointment within 48 hours these days, and if it was a genuine emergency then A&E is the place to go. Can’t guarantee you won’t be behind a queue of folks with beating/breathing/bleeding issues. As my boss says the NHS seems to have abandoned teeth and eyes (and hearing),

    On the other hand my mother received a single lung transplant, our friend’s deaf and blind infant has just received bilateral cochlear implants. The NHS doesn’t seem to shy away from these kinds of treatments, and in many areas provides world leading care and research. I don’t think it can be summed up simply by sound bites, or even anecdotes, it is a massive organisation.

  4. I’ve had two experiences with the NHS this century.

    One was when I cut a lump off my thumb. A friend drove me to A&E, where a nurse put a temporary dressing on the wound, and then I had to sit around for about three hours trying not to bleed too much. Then a doctor quizzed me about the event, commended my resourcefulness (using rum to sterilise the wound) and patched it up properly. I made a followup visit a few days later when, after a non-significant waiting time, a nurse changed the dressing.

    The other was when I got a mysterious virus that rendered me pretty much helpless for over two weeks. I went to the GP, got signed off from work, and got some general advice about what over-the-counter medicines might help, and (in the third week) an exercise regime to recover my fitness.

    Both times I got what I needed, although there was some waiting involved. And both times, I took great solace in knowing that, no matter what happened, I wouldn’t be getting a bill for any of it.

    Here in NZ I have yet to sample the healthcare system, except as necessary to satisfy the immigration people. I’ll let you know how it goes if I do.

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