It’s a couple of weeks now since the Republican right in the USA dragged the NHS into their own arguments over healthcare, with a series of bizarre lies about our NHS, such as that people over 60 don’t get treatment.
This has not been helped by leading Conservative Daniel Hannan telling Fox TV his views on the NHS: “we’ve lived through this mistake for 60 years now…. The reality is it hasn’t worked- it has made people iller… We have very few doctors- we disincentivise people from practicing medicine in this country… because there’s no market”.
Ever since, people have been falling over themselves (in the case of Brits, safe in the knowledge that A&E is there for us…) to put the record straight.
The Twitter feed #welovethenhs has produced facts, figures and feelings galore. It’s really quite moving to see so many people sharing their life-changing and life-saving experiences of the NHS. Particularly interesting comments have come from people who’ve lived in both the UK and the USA, including Lib Dem MP Susan Kramer who commented dryly “Lived 18 yrs in USA including having 2 children. Give me the NHS anyday.”
Another interesting piece comes from Graham Gudgin, an Englishman in New Jersey, who sensibly summarises the case: “In the UK, if you can afford it, you can take out insurance and be treated privately. However, if you cannot afford to do this, you’re still covered. This is what’s being proposed in the US. In fact people will have more choice, not less“.
My family relies on the NHS for our health care. In fact, you could probably construct at least one person from all the various body parts and functions we’ve had fixed by the NHS, and I’m sure other families have similar tales to tell. And even people with private healthcare have the NHS there for them if they have an accident, a heart attack or if a private procedure goes wrong.
My mother remembers life before the NHS: a poorer mum caught stealing the medicine my grandma had just bought. And a friend from church was reminiscing about families calculating how sick someone could get before they risked consulting the doctor.
One of my constituents, Peter, a respected business consultant, emailed me, pointing out that “two key indicators of the success of health policy are infant mortality rate and life expectancy“, and attaching stats, sourced from that subversive anti-American organisation, the CIA.
Peter goes on to ask, “If the US system is so good and the NHS so bad, why does the UK have a better infant mortality rate and life expectancy, even though expenditure per capita is much high in the USA? And Cuba, hardly a model of development, has a better infant mortality rate than the USA. Most other developed countries in fact do better than the USA.” He points out that the UK, Canada, France and Cuba are “four diverse countries with public health provision which, apart from life expectancy in Cuba, do better than the USA. This does not speak volumes for the US approach.”
At the time of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, one of the newspapers did a survey on what made people proud to be British: the NHS came top of the list. The USA may have rejected the monarchy but perhaps in the NHS we have an institution from which they can learn.
Our NHS may not be under threat from Republican politicians in the USA, but we cannot be complacent.
As Norman Lamb has highlighted, under Labour the NHS is experiencing massive bureaucracy and creeping privatisation to commercial healthcare providers, many of them US-owned, and a democratic deficit, where the public have no say in how our largest public service is run.
Ironically, the one area where market forces might have been appropriate, providing IT services, has been crushed by a huge and hugely-expensive national NHS IT scheme that is still not operational.
Small wonder that a nurse I canvassed this week is the latest convert from Labour to Lib Dem in Islington.
The NHS, brainchild of a Liberal, William Beveridge, is not the property of any one political party. And the outpouring of support for our NHS should give UK as well as US politicians pause for thought in considering future health policies.