Ignorant barracking of the NHS

By Giles Fraser
22 Aug 2009

The National Health Service has continued to take a bashing in the USA over the past week or so. President Barack Obama’s health-care reform has unleashed a barrage of Re­publican indignation against our health service - some of it fuelled directly by the religious right.

Apparently, the NHS is a form of fascism and, according to Sarah Palin, it has what she called “death panels”. Of course, it is widely re­cognised that Ms Palin may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but this is ignorant and cynical beyond compare.

According to its Republican critics, the great crime of the NHS is that it rations health-care. When a drug is incredibly expensive, the NHS has to decide whether it represents value for money. If not, then such a drug will not be made available.

To me that makes perfect sense. To spend millions of pounds on drugs that make little difference is like flushing taxpayers’ money down the lavatory.

Of course this means that sometimes the NHS will say, no, some treatments are not going to be offered. That’s how it should be. Yet the people who make these tough decisions are the ones that Mrs Palin has branded “evil”.

If the NHS is so terrible, why do so few people go private in the UK? If the NHS is so terrible, why do we have a higher life-expectancy in this country than in the United States, and, on most measures, can expect roughly similar health outcomes from our different arrange­ments?

The biggest difference is that the US spends a heck of a lot more on its sick for a similar result. Sure, it isn’t taxpayers’ money. But someone still has to find it, and that often means the poor employer.

The reason that the US throws all this money away is that they have an insurance system which encourages people to seek medical interventions at the drop of a hat. So they buy all the expensive equipment and are forever being scanned and examin­ing themselves.

But they don’t live any longer or get appreciably health­ier. And worst of all, the poor find they cannot afford to go to a doctor. Now that is sick.

At root, this may be because some Americans think it is un-American to stand in line, or to accept that the answer may just be no.

I am a huge lover of all things American (except their tedious home-made sports) but there are times where they come across to us Europeans as big babies, wanting something now, refusing to share or wait or accept that they can’t have something. That’s not American. That’s childish.

Also on Ekklesia: Banking on the NHS, by Jonathan Bartley: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/news/columns/bartley/banking_on_the_nhs and Neutralized Health Service? by Simon Barrow: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/9785

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(c) Giles Fraser will be Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral and Director of the St Paul’s Institute from mid-September 2009. This piece is adapted from his Church Times column with grateful thanks.

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