Is public healthcare in Britain really that bad?

Obama’s plans for healthcare reform in the US are far from uncontroversial and many of those on the right side of the political spectrum have been coming up with various facts and figures to undermine his moves to widen access. One of the (perhaps unintended) targets of this has been Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), a ‘socialised’ health care system, and many claims have been made about its supposed failings. But are these claims really true? British newspaper The Guardian investigated the claims and came up with the facts:

The claim: Ted Kennedy, 77, would not be treated for his brain tumour if he was in Britain because he is too old – Charles Grassley, Republican senator from Iowa.

The response: Untrue, says the Department of Health. “There is no ban on anyone of any age receiving any treatment, ” said a spokesman. “Whether to prescribe drugs or recommend surgery is rightly a clinical decision taken on a case by case basis.”

The claim: In England, anyone over 59 years of age cannot receive heart repairs, stents or bypass because it is not covered as being too expensive and not needed – an anonymously authored, but widely circulated, email, largely sent to older voters

The response: Totally untrue. Growing numbers of patients over 65 with heart conditions are having surgery, including valve repairs and heart bypass surgery, says Professor Peter Weissberg, the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) medical director. For example, the average age at which people have a bypass operation has risen from 58 in 1991 to 66 in 2008.

There are several more which reveal the true facts. It’s true that survival rates for breast and prostate cancers are lower in Britain than in the US, but whether that is due to the standard of treatment or care, or down to other factors (such as diet, exercise or genetic variations) isn’t explored. In any case, not one of the major British political parties promotes the abolition of the NHS, and barely any of the minor ones would abolish it either. While most Brits, politicians or otherwise, would happily spend half an hour telling you about how the NHS could be improved, you would find it hard to find anyone who would want to get rid of it altogether.

29 thoughts on “Is public healthcare in Britain really that bad?

  1. The NHS has it’s faults, but it does a bloody good job with what it has and is far better than the alternative. You should never be scared to go to the doctor because of the cost.

    My retired mother had a heart valve replaced a few years back, and quite a few more years back my grandmother had the same and she was over 59 as well.

    I cannot believe the crap thrown up by certain people in the US to try and stop Obama from putting in a system that will save lives.

  2. Healthcare in the UK compared to the US?
    It’s awesome.

    The US should be ashamed that medical care is not as publicly funded as it is in the UK.  Our only excuse that it isn’t thus far: pure greed.

    rob@egoz.org

  3. I probably should have stated that a number of my friends work for the NHS so I am maybe a little biased. But then the NHS does employ around 3% of the entire adult population of the UK so it’s hard not to know people involved with it.

  4. currently twitter is exploding with #welovethenhs tag in response to these articles that are surfacing here. I’m amazed at what people will believe off the cuff without doing any checking themselves.

  5. My dad had his stent at 68.  My Nan was diagnosed with cancer at 90- her fault for late diagnosis as she didn’t go to the doctor believing she had indigestion- and received treatment for the last weeks of her life.

  6. It’s true that survival rates for breast and prostate cancers are lower in Britain than in the US, but whether that is due to the standard of treatment or care, or down to other factors (such as diet, exercise or genetic variations) isn’t explored.

    The reason for lower survival for breast and prostate cancer in Europe is almost certainly because more intensive screening at an early age leads to lead time bias, which is described here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/02/the_early_detection_of_cancer_more_compl.php

    Also, there is a lot of prostate cancer that never endangers a man’s life. Indeed, autopsy series of men in their 80s show that about 75% of them have prostate cancer. The cancer just didn’t progress and didn’t kill them. That’s why finding prostate cancer earlier is so contentious. So much of it would never endanger a man’s life. However, because we don’t have the tools to differentiate the harmless prostate cancer from the deadly prostate cancer, we treat it all as deadly, a phenomenon known as overtreatment. In the U.S. we screen a lot more for prostate cancer and therefore find a lot of these “wimpy” cancers, which may not even have needed treatment in the first place. That artificially inflates our survival numbers compared to Europe.

    There is lately increasing evidence that a similar, but less prevalent, phenomenon is going on with breast cancer screening. Again, finding all these early cancers that are indolent and not very aggressive artificially inflates our survival numbers compared to Europe.

  7. That’s the power of the corporate owned media for you. It truly is amazing how they have sucessfully convinced the majority in The United States that these private-for-profit health insurance companies are anything but parasites.

    I have been convinced that a single-payer system is the way to go. If you want to supplement with extra private that is fine. But we really do need a public option in this country.

    You hear all kinds of facts and figures spouted out about how Canadian and British health care systems are a nightmare.(Facts that usually turn out to be complete bullshit.) But I have been actively seeking Brits, Canadians, and Aussies and asking them directly what they think about their health care system. The answer is pretty much uniform. It is some variation of: “Well, it’s not perfect, but I get the care I need, so I can’t complain.” Then follow up with the question, “Would you prefer an American-style health care system instead?” Answer: “OH HELL NO!!!” and then they go on about a story of someone they know in the States who is getting fucked over by their insurance provider.

  8. Re US costs.
    My Gross pay monthly is £1800 = $2700 approx.

    The right wing Adam Smith institute reckons the UK government takes 36% of my income (Wiki- ‘Tax Freedom Day’ and their own site, however Caveat- due to the progressive nature of tax – higher % at higher income they may be overstating the tax for average earners).

    $2700 x36% = $972- that’s all taxes that I will pay, VAT (sales tax), fuel duty, alcohol duty etc.  My actual direct taxes are £375 ~$550, Tax and National Insurance.  (My employer will pay about another £180 in Employers NI)

    What sort of healthcare could I get for that- note there is no money left over for other public services.

  9. Repost of Part- kept getting Error message on edit.

    $2700 x36% = $972- that’s all taxes that I will pay, VAT (sales tax), fuel duty, alcohol duty etc.  My actual direct taxes are £375 ~$550, Tax and National Insurance (though my NI may be low, due to having a employer pension scheme- for others it may be £60 more.  My employer will pay about another £180 in Employers NI)

    So if the government abolished all forms of tax I would have £648/$972 extra a month. What sort of healthcare could I get for that? Note there is no money left over for other public services.

  10. Thanks for all the info, guys.  Unfortunately, many Americans are apparently convinced by the “deathcare” and “taking away our choice” arguments.  Just shows the power of money to sway public opinion.

  11. The American healthcare system is just our way of weeding economically unsuccessful people out of the population.  It’s just the American version of the “Final Solution.”

  12. It’s not anything that sinister, C101. It’s profit motive plain and simple. If you cost them too much money they will find a way to cancel your insurance. It doesn’t matter how financially successful you may or may not be, if you eat into their profits they will drop you.

  13. I wonder how long till we have to form our counter protests, but make sure we keep them under control?

  14. I do love the NHS for what it is, infact it’s one of the few things I would actually go out and protest about if there were plans to tear it down or privitise it (British Rail all over again anyone?)

    I know that in the course of my life I will hurt, sick, have children and likely die a long drawn out death due to the modern medical technology that will keep me going well into my 100’s (atleast according to the government when they explained why they were raising the age for the state pension). I also know that every step of the way the NHS will be there to stitch me back together, and drug me into a medically enduced coma at the end. All for a minimal cost where necessary.

    The only time i’ve had a long wait at accident and emergency was when i broke a finger on a friday night. But i imagine any hospital in the world will have long ques on a friday night. Probably should have just gone home and come back on saturday.

  15. Well done Republicans, not only are you pissing off Americans, you have upset the British, whose “WelovetheNHS” campaign crashed twitter with the number of messages of support.

  16. My only beef with Obama is I don’t think he is doing enough. I want at least a single payer option. I think his plan panders to the insurance companies and excuses us from having a real discussion on health care.

  17. That’s pretty much what Grassley said.  He was careful to say afterwords that may not happen in all socialized health-care systems, but it is the understanding of many Americans that Kennedy would be too low on the NHS priority list to survive before he was able to receive treatment.  This is a serious shortcoming of the rationed health system.  We even have that problem here in the States.

    “We are at the dawn of a new age…”

    “We are breaking up the vicious tyranny of economic power. We will set men free of the rule of the dollar. We will release our spiritual aims from dependence on the owners of material means. We will liberate our culture from the stranglehold of the profit-chasers. We will build a society dedicated to higher ideals, and we will replace the aristocracy of money by—”

    “—the aristocracy of pull,” said a voice beyond the group – Ayn Rand

    There are lots of ways to get money under the “Aristocracy of Money”.  It’s not so easy (or dignified) to crusade for power.  Few people have the Pull to move themselves up the list for medical treatment.  Luckily, private health companies don’t care much about that because the government doesn’t fund them.  But politicians have lots of pull when a government agency is calling the shots.

  18. Woops.  Forgot the link:



    That’s what Grassley said.

    Also need to append that last sentence:

    But politicians have lots of pull when a government agency is calling the shots (funding the hospital, etc.).

  19. Politicians have lots of pull when a private agency is calling the shots too. Except then there’s nothing explicitly illegal on the agency’s side when they kowtow to that pull because they don’t have explicit rules against obeying implicit authority over regulation.

    A Senator can go to a public school and maybe bully his or her way through to things happening. They’re not on the org chart though, so both the principals would be committing a crime or ethics violation if that happens. If the Senator does it at a private school, only the Senator is committing to what might be a criminal activity.

    Given the overhead that is much maligned in government activities to push for clear auditing, assuming some sort of cash value transaction of “pull” there’s no doubt an anomaly on the books when the public school relents under the authority. It might be slow then, but external auditing reviews in government always eventually happen and like in every external audit the external auditors rejoice at anomalies to prove they’re doing their jobs.

    You can’t prevent people in power from exercising power. You can set up the system so that it pushes for accountability when someone colors outside the lines.

  20. The American Right are making things difficult for the British Right.  Following MEP Daniel Hannan’s appearance on Fox, there has been a blur of the Conservative Leadership moving as far away from him as possible, while the other 2 major parties get to point and say “we told you so” about the Tories.

    Hannan has made his re-election at the next election much harder- expect lots of campaigning on the line of “This man want’s to abolish free healthcare”

  21. My father is probably dying, he has dementia and is in his 70s. He is an private care home paid for by the NHS at about £1,000 a week (yes it is expensive). He has a chest infection and it will probably kill him, we know this and accept this. The NHS is trying its best to keep him alive, he is being well cared for, he is having antibiotics to treat his condition and his needs are being looked after. His care is excellent and I wouldn’t fault it. It is costing nearly £50,000 a year and we take it for granted because that is the NHS, they prolong life and look after people.

    My son, 3 years old now, was born in a hospital for free. I was treated as a child for a tumor for free. My father in law (also in his 70s) broke his leg and spend two weeks in hospital and it cost nothing. My Uncle recently died and spend three weeks in hospital, again no cost and wonderful care, no one pulled the plug or held a ‘death panel’ what happened was that he was very very ill, he stayed at home as much as he could and then went into hospital where they looke after him and where he died. It turns out he had aspesdosis and no amount of health care could cure that.

    My son was ill shortly after being born and was treated in hospital at no cost to us. He has asthma again we don’t pay for his drugs and his treatment as the NHS covers all of that. 

    I’ve used the NHS all my life and am grateful for it, as for dentists, yes we British have ‘Natural teeth’ rather than the bleeched and falsly marshaled teeth of many Americans. Why is it assumed that teeth shoudl all be gleaming white, that is not natural, nor is the straightened teeth that people have in the USA. Really what the USA has is a false concept of ‘good teeth’ and I wouldn’t with the bleeched blond teeth of Americans on anyone else (and by the way many of the ‘procedures’ used actually weaken the teeth!) We have dentists who believe their job is to deal with problems not do plastic surgery on teeth – and thank goodness we do as our teeth are natural and normal unlike many Americans.

    I would say that NO party and no one I know would get rid of the NHS. Yes we complain, but our complaints are nothing in comparisson to the complaints you would hear without the NHS.

  22. Well, at least Canada isn’t the only country taking a shit kicking at the hands of these, dishonest, truth bending idiots.

    Wake up, America – you are being lied to. Your fear is being played upon. Canadians are quite happy with their health system (we do, of course, have problems but they are minor). From this blog post and the comments following it, it looks like Britain is also being slandered.

    Shame on them for the lies. Shame on you if you believe them.

  23. Hi.

    Now it seems the far right in the UK are using all this Hooha in the US to declare their interest in dismantling the NHS system. Great. Is this social networking or just the media to blame. OK, I know, really it is just the far right being opportunistic.

    What a waste of time. The health service does some good in the UK. Most of the people who work in it work very hard and do their best. At least most of the effort is spent on trying to help people and not on legal and insurance issues. It may not work in the US but that is a totally hypothetical idea. ….and a highly stupid one.

    Compare to health care in the emerging nations we are so, so lucky.

  24. Is the NHS perfect? No. Is the USA system better? HELL NO!

    I know that as a UK resident if I have a health issue I don’t have to worry.

    I don’t have to worry whether my insurance covers it.

    I don’t have to worry that some inconsequential minor error or omission on my insurance paperwork will give my insurance company an excuse to cancel my cover if I become ill.

    I don’t have to worry that I’ll lose my home paying for treatment.

    I don’t have to worry that if I’m not insured (and don’t qualify for Medicare) I’ll have to wait until the issue becomes serious enough to warrant a trip to ER before I can be treated.

    I don’t have to worry that I’ll have to keep working a job I hate because I need the medical plan for my family.

    I don’t have to worry that I’ll rack up a three or four figure debt and end up bankrupt if I’m hit by a car.

    I don’t have to worry that if I work in a ‘risky’ profession I won’t be able to afford, or even be able to GET decent medical insurance.

    Consider the case of adult film actress Melissa Ashley. She needs a hysterectomy to deal with some serious health issues. She can’t schedule the surgery as her profession means she can’t get affordable medical insurance and she can’t even afford the deposit on the operation yet.

    And no, we don’t have “Death Panels” despite what some moronic former vice presidential candidate would think.

    America does have “Death Panels” though – they’re those medical insurers who as soon as you start costing them money will use every trick in the book to cancel your coverage and leave you to die so they can pass on bigger profits to their shareholders.

    If this attempt to finally deal with the utter failure of US Healthcare policy is defeated there is only one response – every SINGLE politician who votes against or otherwise tries to stop the reform should pay the penalty at the ballot – vote every one of them out of office. If the Republican party votes en bloc against the reforms, they should never receive a single vote again – that would be justice.

    Wake up America – if you’re the best country in the world – prove it by valuing the health and wellbeing of your citizens they way we do.

  25. As a Brit, I am proud of our NHS. It is one of our greatest achievements as a country that anyone who needs it is treated without having to pay at the point of treatment. From what I’ve heard of the American system, it is expensive, dominated by the big drug and hi tech companies and grossly unfair on the less well off. You should be proud of Obama. He’s the best man in the White House for several generations and is restoring your tarnished reputation in the world.

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