Don’t panic, America, it really can work. I am with the British NHS on this

It sounds crazy over there in the USA.

All those people going mad about President Obama’s healthcare reform policies sound like they have gone hysterical. Death threats in the name of God! Where does that fit in with anyone’s idea of religion? How could killing the president’s wife and daughters be in God’s interests?

Well, far be it for me to comment on our friends overseas but, wow!

As you may know by now, I have been ill since 30th. October last year and, like Dr. Stephen Hawkins said over in the States yesterday, I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for the British NHS.

I had a brain haemorrhage and after that emergency ambulance ride, early and quick treatment in A & E from a neurologist who had been alerted before the ambulance arrived, and then three weeks in hospital in the capable hands of a large team of medics.

I have since then had regular consultations with extremely bright brain consultants and now fourteen different scans with more on the horizon. The bill, if I had to put it on my credit card, would have been massive but it has all been covered by our National Health Service.

There seems to be a fear over in the States that our NHS system is less than perfect. Well, of course it is. Nothing is perfect in this World and our health care system has many problems or at least one main problem – there is never enough money to pay for it all.

That was of course always the case. Those forward thinking politicians who planned our system when Britain was practically bankrupt after the Second World War, knew that we couldn’t afford an NHS but they pushed forward anyway.

Clement Attlee, the then prime minister, was asked after he had retired why he had let all the welfare state legislation through when the country was in such a perilous position financially. He answered by saying that he knew that if he didn’t do it then, it would never happen.

Bless you Clement Attlee – you were a brave man.

I am no more of an economist than most of the rest of you but I do know that that wildly ambitious dream of health provision for all regardless of income was inspirational and has continued to be an ideal even it has always been in need of extra funds.

Let’s not mention space travel, nuclear weapons, silly overseas wars and the like but money can be found if the will is there and I, for one, see the British NHS as one of the miracles of our times.

OK, it is a bit frayed round the edges, it might need a lick of paint and things do go wrong but all those nostalgia-kick folk out there who think it was better before then, think again.

We tend to think that the American system is unfair and that the poor are chucked out of A & E if their credit cards don’t go through. I know it is not as simple as that

In America, just like in Britain, things go wrong and there, just as here, the rich always manage to have a better time. C’est la vie.

But there, with its insurance based system, it is really, as it is here, really a question of money. Insurance is getting more and more expensive and the consequences are hitting pockets – not just poor ones.

There is no question about the high quality of American healthcare, if you have all your paperwork in order or not, or for that matter if you are an illegal immigrant just run down by a car. You won’t be left dying on the street. It is also true though that everyday healthcare in the U.S. may be superior in many ways to our system here but it comes at a perilous cost to the individual.

Health insurance has often been floated as a brilliant idea for healthcare in the UK but nowadays not even the Conservative party would dare to change things. In the end both systems are cash strapped but, at least in Britain, we all have to deal with the financial shortfall – in our taxes and in prioritising the decisions that nations make about how they spend what money there is in the kitty – or what they can dare to spend if it isn’t there either.

To my small brain, it looks like President Obama is doing a bit of a Clement Attlee. He can see the problems ahead but he knows that if he doesn’t push through a fairer healthcare system then no one else will.

I know that those scare stories about being turned away in an emergency though.

In the mid-1990s I once spent a night shift with a policeman on the streets of Richmond, Virginia in their citizen partnership programme. I saw a lot of nasty things but we, my cop partner and I, kept meeting up with the ambulance services. In the end we got to know each other well. Whether it was pulling up a drunk from a ditch, intervening in a violent domestic dispute or picking up the aftermath of a shoot out, the ambulance men were there, uncomplaining, mostly cheerful and extremely hardworking.

In the middle of the night, we were all called to a major car accident. A row of cars had been smashed up, one of them had the driver still inside and had to be cut out from the squashed wreck. Flood lights were set up, the road was closed, and I was surrounded by teams of police and health workers…some of them my friends from earlier encounters.

It was dramatic, and I am afraid to say, I found it exciting too.

The young man in the car was in a bad way and had to be rushed to hospital. I followed in the police car with the cop, who I now considered my partner – it was our case.

We went straight into the emergency room at the hospital – a scene from a very professional, totally dedicated, Hell. The floor was running with blood and all around me were battle-scene repair jobs from emergency medical teams. Our man, was bleeding profusely, and was immediately surrounded by doctors and nurses but it was our job to try to get a statement from him.

It was obvious that he was under the influence of drugs and that he had just careered down that street out of control, my cop wanted a signature on a quickly written statement. It was the minimum possible charge as no one else had been hurt..a generous act from my friend who thought that this kid had enough on his plate already.

So whilst he screamed, and spurted blood, the cop guided his hand onto the page. Seconds later his spleen burst covering us all in his blood and he was rushed away to the operating room.

Later I found out that he was an illegal immigrant and that he had survived his injuries. No one asked for a credit card and no one questioned their priorities in saving this poor man’s life.

Don’t ask me to do the sums but I think we all owe each other that duty of care.

I hope that America gets what it deserves, a system that maintains its very high standards but which is also available to all its citizens not just in those emergency moments but at every turn of the way.

Meanwhile, I await my next round of medical appointments. If you are worried about adopting part of our system, my American friends, take my experience, I really do feel safe in the hands of the British National Health Service and I most certainly wouldn’t be here now without it.


  1. I'm sorry Wolfie, but you've got it all wrong on this.

    Paid-for-at-the-point-of-delivery healthcare is a form of natural selection. It weeds out the poor and the unhealthy. If we can get some far-sighted Government to introduce paid-for-at-the-point-of-delivery healthcare, we would soon end up with a nation of rich people. It would be great.

    And if we increase the costs, so that only the super-rich can afford it, we will end up with an nation of the super-rich, happy and healthy. How can you not see that as progress?

  2. Good article Wolfie! Interesting to read your experience of the American system. I am not sure how long the NHS can last but I hope it does for as long as possible as it says something good about our values as a nation.

  3. Thanks Sally. Yes I think it is quite a reassuring thing about the old UK that the NHS seems to have the support of all sides of the community.

    Good to see you commenting on here. Welcome.

  4. @ Decker

    I'm not sure whether healthcare is either a right or a privilege. It is more active (and less passive) than that. It's something to which we have to commit, financially and in other ways.

    It's not an endless resource, so we must use it carefully, but the major factor is that we must use it fairly. How do we define fairly? That's a whole new debate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *