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.