Russell Brand recently took time off from making offensive phone calls to old men to weigh into the debate on US healthcare, proudly announcing at the MTV Video Music Awards (a novel setting for a policy pronouncement) that in the UK , unlike the US , “instead of letting people die in the street we have free healthcare!”
You probably shouldn’t expect someone’s eyesight to be too sharp when they’re peering down their nose from astride their high horse but even so, Brand managed to fit two glaring errors into just 12 words.
First, the National Health Service is not free. Doctors and nurses aren’t volunteers and neither are the 2 administrators for every single bed in the system. The NHS consumes 18% of all government spending. That comes from taxes. Secondly, he is right that people rarely “die in the street”. In the UK you die of poor treatment or hygiene in the hospital.
That’s if you get in. As a centralised, socialised system the NHS is driven not by profit and loss in competition but by a deluge of ever changing targets and directives from central government. One target mandates the maximum amount of time a patient should wait after arriving at the hospital before receiving treatment. But targets invite fiddling and ambulances are kept waiting outside hospitals so as not to start the clock ticking. A letter obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from Chairman of the Ambulance Trust Graham Meldrum reveled 7,600 instances of this in October last year alone.
Once inside the NHS cannot even keep its premises clean. One result is Clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection. In England in 2007 C Diff was mentioned on 5,465 death certificates being listed as the main cause of death on 2,298 of them. By contrast, in the same year, 47 British soldiers died in Iraq . Then there is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA for short. In 2007 MRSA was mentioned in 1,593 death certificates being given as the cause of death in nearly 500. Again, in 2007, 42 British soldiers died in Afghanistan.
If the unsanitary conditions don’t get you the treatment, or lack of it, might. For example, for all cancers 66.3 % of American men and 63.9 % of women survive more than five years. In Europe just 47.3% of men and 55.8% of women survive that long. Breast cancer mortality is 88% higher and Prostate cancer mortality is 604% higher in the U.K. Neither do these treatments bankrupt poor families. Out-of-pocket expenses by American patients are 12.6% of national health spending, lower than in Germany, Japan, Canada and most of Europe.
These are the facts that get lost in the debate about ‘Obamacare’. The primary aim of ‘reform’ is not to improve the health of the people, though its supporters no doubt believe this would follow, but to introduce ‘equality’. These moral considerations are far less quantifiable.
Earlier this year Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan was interviewed about the NHS on Fox News and called it a “60 year mistake” which he “wouldn’t wish it on anyone”. For this saying this the Health Secretary of the UK government branded Hannan “unpatriotic”. He didn’t say he was wrong, and any attempt to debate the NHS in the UK invites the charge that you want to see poor people die. Its often said that in secular Britain faith in the NHS is the closest thing we have to a religion these days. Indeed, to see the venom directed at Hannan was to see something not a million miles from the denunciations of the medieval church. But blind faith, even in socialism, is no substitute for reason.
The same thing is being tried in the US in the current debate; the smearing of opponents of socialization as uncaring and elitist, or, as Jimmy Carter tried to put it recently, racist. That is why it is so vital to look at the statistics behind the socialists empty rhetoric.
Florida Congressman Alan Grayson said 44,000 Americans (out of a population of 300 million) die each year as a result of not having health insurance. But no system will be perfect. Leading oncologist Karol Sikora estimated 10,000 cancer deaths (out of a population of 60 million) in the UK every year because we have the NHS as opposed to another, more efficient system.
One of the most honest and insightful commentators on socialized medicine in the UK, James Batholomew put it this way; “I certainly do not hold up the USA as a model healthcare system. It is deeply flawed. But it is still much better at saving the lives of the greatest possible number than our, far more deeply flawed system. It depends what you want: a flawed system that saves more lives or a disastrous system that people feel is virtuous. This is a secular version of creationism. Many people in Britain love the NHS. They don’t care about evidence. They don’t care how many die. Believing in the NHS makes them feel good about themselves. I find it appalling that people are so self-indulgent and so uncaring about the reality.”
For more information on James Batholomew and his thoughts please refer to his book “The Welfare State We’re In” at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Welfare-State-Were-James-Bartholomew/dp/1842750631