In Defence Of The NHS

This was originally posted last month on my old blog, but due to the continued lies and bullshit being spread about socialised healthcare in America, I felt it was about time I posted it again. Whatever you think about Obama and his policies is immaterial on this one, because no-one should die because they cannot afford healthcare and no-one should go broke because they get sick. It’s as simple as that.

Read, learn and inwardly digest, Americans. Your bitter and twisted Republican politicians are lying to you. This is the truth about socialised healthcare from one who has worked in and received much medical treatment from Britain’s ‘evil’ NHS. Many of you know full well that 99.95% of what the conservative news networks and Republican politicians have been spouting on the subject is simply lies and spin. But such lies and spin should not be left unremarked, especially when they reveal such appalling levels of ignorance and prejudice.

So, Republicans – are you sitting comfortably? Well, you won’t be by the time I’m through here. Time for a history lesson….

Despite its many imperfections, the NHS has managed to survive for more than sixty years without exploding or turning into an ‘evil and Orwellian’ communist/Nazi system (honestly Republicans, what do they teach you in Politics 101?). Prior to World War Two, healthcare provision was actually very different in Britain, and was seen by many as symptomatic of a long-standing and much wider social inequality. In fact, I suspect the current GOP crew would probably approve of the pre-NHS system in Britain, as it was overly complex, provided under a number of different systems and skewed towards those with money – which meant that a very large percentage of the population either could not afford or were not entitled to decent healthcare. Hmmm. Oddly familiar, all that.

Then along came an arrogant and self-obsessed upper class senior civil servant called William Beveridge; perhaps the last person you would expect to advocate universal social security and universal health care. But that is exactly what he did, in the Beveridge Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services of 1942. The Report‘s suggestions extended welfare reforms (like old age pensions) introduced by pre-World War One Liberal governments to their logical conclusions. It also reflected the experience of the de facto nationalization of Britain’s hospitals during the horror of the war on the home front in the early 1940s – a necessary process in order to provide a decent level of healthcare for the huge and increasing numbers of wounded civilians and servicemen and women of all social classes needing treatment. In the words of the historian Arthur Marwick: “only by making the state services open to all could it be ensured that the highest standards would be available to all; only by having a universal service could the stigma be removed from those who had to make use of state services” (1990, p.47).

Despite a great deal of political debate, the fact that post-war Britain was close to bankruptcy (mainly due to the sudden US withdrawal of the Lend-Lease programme), and a spectacular sulk over money and prestige from the British Medical Association which nearly scuppered the whole thing at its inception, the NHS finally came into being on 5th July 1948. Right from the start it wasn’t perfect (and it still isn’t), but it immeasurably improved the lives of millions of British people previously unable to access the treatments they needed. Yes, Republicans, it was indeed eventually introduced by a Labour government (oooh, Socialism, run for the hills!!), and yes, the NHS has always involved a great deal of government expenditure funded by tax payers’ money – but have you looked in the mirror lately?

No, really, you should. You’d be surprised. Didn’t you know that the American government already pays more for healthcare per head per annum than even that evil-NHS-socialised-healthcare-Britain does? A lot more. In fact, in 2007, US government spending on healthcare accounted for 16.2% of GDP – not far off twice the average spend of other OECD countries. Figures from 2004 are even more specific, showing that for every American, the government spends $6,102 on healthcare every year (this figure has probably risen since then), compared to a measly $2,546 per capita spent by the British government.

How do you account for that, Republicans? Oh, I know, it doesn’t fit in with your crazy, delusional worldview, so you’ll probably just ignore it. Or start lying about it, just like you’ve already been telling lies about the NHS. Your ignorance will show through – in fact, it already has. Who, I wonder, failed to fact-check that Investors Business Daily article this week which brazenly announced that: “people such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless”? A quick trawl through Google or Wikipedia would turn up the astounding fact that Stephen Hawking is actually British (shock, horror!) and has gone on record as saying that he, like so many, “wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS”. Just because some random renegade Tory MEP has nailed his colours to the mast in opposition to the NHS, it doesn’t mean it is a failed system which lacks the support of the British people, as you lot seem to assume. Honestly, Republicans, go get yourselves some IT classes and read a few British newspapers, blogs and websites – you’ll soon discover that the NHS is not perfect, but it is still much loved and appreciated by many (even to the extent of crashing Twitter on Wednesday due to the sheer volume of Brits defending the NHS), including a huge number of people who would, like at least fifty million Americans, be unable to afford healthcare if they also lived in the US.

I am exactly this type of low-income individual who would have fallen through the cracks in the American health care system. Recently, I was found to have a large pre-cancerous abnormality on my cervix after a smear test. Within a couple of weeks of the smear test results coming back, I had been referred for further tests at a local hospital – and within less than two months the tests had been taken, I had received treatment, and been given the all-clear. I doubt I’d have been able to afford any of that under the American system, and I’d now be well on my way to… well, dying, actually. Then there’s my dad, in his late sixties and retired, who had serious heart valve surgery two years ago – according to the Republican lies, the NHS doesn’t perform surgery like that on anyone over the age of 59. Then there’s a friend of mine who gave birth to her twin daughters prematurely, with all the risks to mother and babies that entails – her adorable little girls are now four years old and fit and healthy, all thanks to the NHS. Or there’s even another friend of mine who had a heart and lung transplant as a child and is now, in her thirties, one of the longest-surviving transplant patients in the country – again, all because of the NHS and the groundbreaking healthcare they have provided over the last two decades. All of this life-saving surgery and treatment has been carried out according to a need, not a price or a profit – and that is how healthcare should be. And if that requires government intervention and funding, then so be it. What’s so scary about that, Republicans?

I will keep on saying this until I am blue in the face: the NHS saved my life. And I am only one of thousands upon thousands of British people who can say the same thing. Lying about the British health service for Republican political ends won’t change this simple truth; in fact nothing will change in American healthcare until those in power, the disproportionately influential, reactionary conservative forces in American society and the hugely wealthy pharmaceutical industry start to realise that healthcare is about people, not profits. And fifty million uninsured and uncovered Americans deserve a decent and universal ‘socialised’ health system. They deserve better than Republican lies.

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  1. Russell Thomas

    I have only just come across this article, As a fellow Brit and lifelong user of the NHS(ever since it began) I would like to declare that I received heart surgery at age 69 and am currently being treated for lymphoma aged almost 80 with no expense spared.
    I do not have medical insurance and never have had. If the NHS is so awful why do more than 90% of use it? We are not all poor- we live in an advanced industrial society with incomes to match and williingly pay the taxes that fund our healthcare.
    Do Republicans wilfully ignore the existence of “Remote Area Medical” expeditions to treat the poor and uninsured? Shame it had to be founded by a Brit called Stan Brock

    • trickygirl

      Thank you very much for your comment. I wondered for a moment why such an old post had popped up again – then I remembered that the 5th July was the anniversary of the founding of the NHS!

      I absolutely agree with your points, it’s sad that we have to continue to make them, isn’t it? But it does seem that this government has been taking lessons from the Republicans and are trying to grind the NHS into the dust, which makes me even more angry.

      I wish you the very best for your lymphoma treatment and I hope it does the trick. Best wishes.

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