Opinion: U.K.’s NHS is warning for U.S.

August 26, 2013


— Each visit to the U.K. brings new horror stories about the National Health Service (NHS).

Last month, Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS, issued a forensic report, commissioned by the government, which found that 14 underperforming hospitals in England had substandard care, contributing to the needless deaths of nearly 13,000 people since 2005. Earlier this year, it was reported that a single hospital in Staffordshire recorded 1,400 “excess” deaths.

Following the July report, letters from patients and relatives of those who died flooded in to newspapers, Sky News and the BBC. Many confirmed poor treatment, if in fact they or their loved ones were able to receive timely care at all. The lack of adequate nursing staff, cuts to elder care budgets and a rise in immigrant populations are a few of the factors that have exacerbated the problem.

One letter from Grace Nutt to the Sky News web page is typical: “I am not surprised at the report at all. In fact the scandal has been going on for longer than the (period from) 2005 the report covers. My daughter was stillborn at Basildon Hospital in 1986. I was ten days overdue and very, very big, and in a lot of distress but was told go home and come back tomorrow; we don’t have enough beds. During the night my daughter died. The nurse even told me she could hear the heartbeat the following day. I told her she couldn’t and it was confirmed by the doctor. The lack of care has been going on for much longer than stated. I am distressed that I did not at the time take the case further and sue, but it’s too late now. I hope everyone in similar circumstances makes them pay. D—n you Basildon Hospital.”

Waiting times for many surgeries in the U.K. are notoriously long, but recently have grown longer. The Huffington Post UK reports that, according to the NHS’s own data, close to 3 million people “were waiting to begin NHS treatment at the end of June, following a referral by their GP.” That represents an increase of 240,000 people from the same month last year. The NHS target for treatment following a referral is 18 weeks. The data show 91.7 percent of patients are “seen” within 18 weeks, but being seen and getting surgery or treatment are not the same. After the first appointment, patients often get in another line. Some wait additional weeks or months until a surgeon becomes available. Some die while waiting.

This is what happens when big, lumbering, inefficient government seeks to provide health care. Why should the U.K.’s horrid experience with NHS matter to Americans? Because if, in a much smaller country, these and other horror stories abound, how much worse could it be when our big, lumbering, inefficient government launches Obamacare? What impact will it have on U.S. hospitals and health care providers? Instead of merely mandating insurance coverage to the uninsured, will our government eventually begin dictating what surgeries and treatments it will pay for based on what a bureaucrat deems cost-effective? It’s only a short step from overseeing health insurance to more intrusive oversight of medical care in general.

Everyone in the U.K. might have access to health care, but they are often forced to accept inferior health care. Will Obamacare result in Americans patiently waiting 4 1/2 months between a referral and an appointment with a specialist or surgeon? Will Americans have to wait weeks, or months, for treatment or surgery, in some cases, risking death?

With Obamacare scheduled to begin phasing-in on Oct. 1, in order to avoid what Sen. Max Baucus. D-Mont., has called a “train wreck,” these questions need answers.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 10 months ago

Who to trust, who to trust? Cal Thomas or the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America, that is, the CIA?

Cal Thomas has presented only anecdotal evidence that is backed by no statistics that are compared with any from the United States. But then, maybe the CIA uses only anecdotal evidence also and doesn't compare anything, which is a frightening thought.

The following source material is from:

This entry gives the number of deaths of infants under one year old in a given year per 1,000 live births in the same year; included is the total death rate, and deaths by sex, male and female. This rate is often used as an indicator of the level of health in a country.

The United Kingdom: 4.50 infant deaths per year.

The United States: 5.90 infant deaths per year.

The # 1 health care system of Monaco should have been discussed, which ranks only 1.81 infant deaths per year. Or, any of the 50 other countries whose health care ranks higher than that of the United States. That includes Cuba, at 4.76 infant deaths per year.

50/224 = 0.223. So, at least the United States ranks in the top 24% of the nations of the world in quality of health care, according to the CIA.

I think it would be better to compare and study the health care systems of many different countries, and then select the best features of each when considering making any changes. It seems to me that the United States has a history of trying to come up with original solutions to problems that have already been worked on for decades by 224 different nations. There are examples that are much better than our health care system that we could learn from out of the 50 nations that outperform the United States.

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.”
- Winston Churchill

jafs 4 years, 10 months ago


There was an interesting show on PBS about this a while back, in which somebody visited and researched a number of different countries and discussed the various ways they have dealt with health care.

One interesting one was Switzerland, where they had chosen to require health insurance companies (and maybe others involved in health care, like drug companies) operate as non-profits.

tomatogrower 4 years, 9 months ago

Cal is feeding the uninformed. The ACA and the British system is different. The British have a single payer system. For those of us who already have insurance, nothing will change. Unless you work for an employee who sees this as an out for providing you with insurance. I personally would have liked a single payer system, so employees could tell bad employers to stuff it and move to another job without losing their insurance. Actually they probably will be able to do that now that insurance companies can't claim pre-existing conditions.

But back to my main point. Cal is feeding fear to the uninformed, because he is comparing apples and oranges. Is he uninformed? Or is he manipulative liar?

tomatogrower 4 years, 9 months ago

If you have insurance, you will simply keep your insurance. Oh sure, all those people who put off going to the doctor or had to go to the emergency room for basic care will now be able to go to the doctor, and you might find it harder to get an appointment, but I'm sure you are Christian enough to be happy they will have health care now, aren't you?

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

Unless your employer stops providing it, as you mentioned.

There may be a significant number of employers who do just that, which means that you won't be able to keep your insurance if you work for one of them.

Instead, you'll have the option of the exchanges, and subsidies, but it will be a distinct change.

tomatogrower 4 years, 9 months ago

Then it would be up to you and your fellow employees to unite, and insist you get the equivalent raise for whatever they were putting towards your insurance so you can buy your own plan on the exchange. But that might mean forming a union, horrors. And you might want to consider finding an employer that doesn't treat their employees like dirt.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 9 months ago

If you insist upon putting yourself at the mercy of others, don't be surprised if that person doesn't behave in the exact way you think he should. Every worker has a new employer staring at them in the mirror. Presumably, that new employer will always have your best interests in mind, all the time.

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

That's changing the discussion.

You said you get to keep your insurance, and I pointed out that's not necessarily true.

And, doing things like what you mention are inherently risky for employees, especially these days, and would also represent a rather significant change.

The point is that things will certainly change with the ACA, in any number of ways, and we won't really know how that all works out in practice for a few years, at least.

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