The NHS is rubbish, as all the foreigners know
Post-war Britain took a historic wrong turn in adopting a state run health system. "Mid Staffs" explains why the NHS is not envied by anyone
Well, I grant you, maybe if you live in Zimbabwe you might envy the health care provided by the NHS. But to everyone in the developed world the NHS is something of a joke -- a sick one at that, as the horrific revelations about the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust have once again illustrated .
Living outside the UK, it is genuinely amazing to me that Britons can keep a straight face while still talking about the NHS as "the envy of the world". It just isn't. I well remember watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics with a friend in Bratislava. When Danny Boyle's nurses trooped out my heart fell. "Oh, God. How am I going to explain this one?" I thought.
I had half a mind to try and pass it off as a celebration of the iconic post-War Carry On films -- a hat tip to Carry on Doctor per chance? My Slovak friend was too fast for me: "You're not actually going to tell me that this is about the NHS?" he said with an incredulous laugh. Before I'd had chance to reply, he added: "But the NHS is rubbish." "Yes," I said. "But that's just the way most Britons want it."
And I'm afraid that that is the truth of the matter. The British people are committed to a health care system that treats them badly and kills them early. When Polly Toynbee writes in the Guardian today that those who would challenge the NHS "should remember how Danny Boyle's Olympic spirit revealed a strength of public passion they defy at their peril," she does have a point.
Of course, it's not the point she thinks she's making. But she is right that it is all but impossible to have a serious discussion about healthcare provision in the UK.
The peoples of the formerly communist countries could not afford such complacency. A generation ago, as they emerged from communism, they had to make serious decisions about what sort of health care system they were going to adopt. They did what any sensible grown ups would do and looked at the available models in the West.
And then, not a single man jack of them chose to emulate the NHS. They knew what they'd be letting themselves in for because it wouldn't have been very much different from the Soviet model they'd just decided to abandon.
In the end, the favoured option was a compulsory insurance model among competing insurers involving a much greater role for the private sector and for markets.
It's not perfect. But it's a damn sight better than the NHS, and even in the formerly communst countries outcomes for an increasing number of cancers, for example, are now better than in the UK.
But if you think that that sort of thing makes any difference at all to the likes of Polly Toynbee or, to be fair, to most among the British political classes, Left or Right, you can think again.
A system that was built for the unions and to give priority to the people who work in it rather than the people who need it as patients, is here to stay until the British people have the appetite for an intelligent debate about the state of the nation's health.
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