Thursday, August 20, 2009

So, I hear there's a debate about the NHS..

...and a whole lot of lies being spread. Contrary to what some reports are saying, we do not leave people to die in the UK.
I shall take some choices quotes from other sources. Innerbrat's LJ turned me onto this wordpress entry (reproduced in entirety):

I am writing to you because you are a friend of mine, because of various statements that have been made by American politicians and journalists about Britain’s National Health Service.

I do not like to try to interfere in American politics, because how you run your country is your own business, but your politicians have been lying, and they have been lying about me and my wife and many of our friends and relatives, so I feel an obligation to set the record straight.

Many of your politicians and journalists have been saying things like “Ted Kennedy wouldn’t get treatment for his brain tumour in the UK because of his age” (a Republican senator called Chuck Grassley said that). Sarah Palin said that in the UK babies with Down’s Syndrome would have to go before a ‘death panel’. And so on. I’m sure you’ve all heard many claims like this yourself.

These claims are lies, pure and simple. They’re not ‘opinions’ that people can disagree about, they’re not things that can be debated, they’re not honest mistakes, they’re out-and-out lies.

Many of you will know that I worked for the NHS for about three years. Some of you will also know that Holly, my wife, still does. Do we strike you as people who would work for an organisation that killed people? Your politicians and journalists are accusing us of being knowing accomplices to murder.

According to the CIA World Factbook, British people live on average seven months longer than Americans. Now, that doesn’t say much about either country’s health-care system, especially when you take lifestyle differences into account, but what you *can* tell from that is that we’re not killing our old people – you don’t get a high life expectancy by killing people!

The tiny grain of truth in all of these lies is that in the NHS, an organisation called the National Institute for Clinical Excellence decides what treatments the NHS will and will not pay for. It does this by measuring how much extra healthy life a given treatment will give a patient, and how much it costs – just like your insurance company does. All healthcare systems have a budget – no system can spend an infinite amount of money, after all – so choices have to be made. The difference is, in your system, the choice is made based on whether you can afford to pay for it. Here, the choice is made based on how much you need it. If you’re 77 years old, like Ted Kennedy, and you have a brain tumour, you’ll get treatment so long as there’s a good chance of it working and giving you a few more years of good life. If there isn’t much chance of that, the government won’t pay it, that’s all. Just like your insurance company won’t pay for expensive treatments that won’t help you, neither will the British government.

And no-one is stopped from paying for treatment if it’s not funded by the NHS. People in Britain can still get private health insurance if they want to and can afford it, and can ask for treatments that the NHS don’t provide. Mostly they don’t, because it works for most people.

I know at least one homeless person who has been given treatment for cancer – and he was homeless before the treatments, not because of them – in Britain, if you’re sick you will get treated, no matter how much money you have. And no matter how old you are, or how disabled.

One American news source recently said that Professor Stephen Hawking would be allowed to die over here, because of his illness. In fact Prof. Hawking has lived in the UK all his life and has nothing but praise for his treatment by the NHS. Sarah Palin says people with Down’s Syndrome would be refused treatment* – that would be news to the people with Down’s Syndrome I used to work with, many of whom had had heart operations on the NHS**.

On average, people in the USA spend twice as much on healthcare as people in Britain – and more than any country in the world. Despite that, according to the World Health Organisation, the USA’s health system is 37th in the world, while the British one is 18th.

There are plenty of faults with the British health care system – and I hope that your legislators learn from them and get you a better system than we have – but it works. We do not kill old people. We do not kill disabled people. If we did, then Holly and I , instead of working for the NHS, would be fighting against it with every ounce of strength we have.

There are arguments that can be made against our system, just as there are arguments for it, and if you agree with those arguments then that’s fine – I have no intention to change your mind here. I am just trying to let you know that I am not an accessory to murder, and that anyone who says I am is a liar.

My good friend Admiral Drax also wrote some stuff a little while back (emphasis mine):

For those of you not in the UK, the NHS is the National Health Service. I know socialised healthcare is becoming more of an inflammatory issue in the US, and by no means do I wish to get all political here, but in my 29 years the 'free' healthcare from the NHS has never once failed to impress me, so I thought I'd share some positive stories, below:

My wife - from Chicago - loves the fact that her entire pregnancy ordeal is free throughout; free prescriptions for a year afterwards too. This was brought home recently by a successful friend of hers in California who jokingly suggested selling his newborn daughter in order to pay the medical fees: it hadn't even struck me that such things had to be paid for. Of course, his medical insurance will help him out, but he still needs to find the cash up-front.

My father-in-law - self-employed - can't afford to retire for the foreseeable future, because at 63 he's still footing extensive medical bills for severe back and knee injuries he received in a chopper crash way back in the 60s with the USMC [I do mean severe, too: in the last decade he's had 3(!) knee replacements, two vertebrae removed and had to have his spine rebuilt].

(Incidentally, after his first knee replacement shattered whilst visiting us over here, causing him immense pain, he was pleasantly surprised to receive free advice and a stack-load of freebie painkillers from our helpful local pharmacist. Normally, any prescription costs no more than £6.50, unless it's normally sold more cheaply. That's a blessing.

My wife's half-sister, when she first visited as a 13-year-old a few years ago, got bad earache on the plane, and refused to let us take her to the doctor, worried that her up-tight mum would be angry with her if she found out we'd spent money on a visit to the GP. If I never again hear a child worried about the incurred expense of seeing a doctor when he or she is ill or in pain, I shall die happy. That should be a given.

My late mother had a defibrillator installed (if 'installed' is the right word!) in lieu of a pacemaker. It cost £35,000 at the time - way more than my parents earned between them in a year - and with all the fantastic treatment she got for three years it didn't cost a penny beyond what we all pay in Tax and National Insurance.

In comparison to this, our beloved hound, Cadfael, had to have a couple of lumps removed back in June, and it cost over £350. I had to pay that up front before I could claim most of it back on his pet insurance, less the premium. That left a real dent, and I dread to think how I could find the money for anything more costly...or human...

I know the system isn't perfect; I know it has its detractors, and of course some other countries do it way better than us. I also know it's by no means actually free...but Man, I love the security of the NHS.

As for me? Without the NHS my mum may have died from heart disease - she had stents installed last year. For a while we thought she may have had to have a heart bypass. I was worried sick enough about the possible op, I don't know what we'd have done if we had to pay for it.
Without the NHS my Dad would never have been tested for strokes or heart attacks.
Without the NHS one of my friends would be dead from complete organ failure during childbirth.
Without the NHS several of my friends and I would still be mentally ill, and quite possibly dead from suicide.
Without the NHS my contraceptives would probably be too expensive to obtain.
Without the NHS my trips to hospital when younger would have cleaned out my parents.
Without the NHS my friend who had scolisois of the spine would be crippled.
Without the NHS my mother in law would never have had a hip replacement and would be in agony.
Without the NHS I would be functionally blind and I would have no teeth- my eye tests were free until the age of 19, help was available towards the cost of glasses. I paid for eye tests and the full price for glasses until 2 years ago when my eyesight tipped over into a complex prescription and now I get assistance once more. Dentists are still expensive but without the NHS I would not be able to afford to go at all and my teeth would have rotted away.

I could go on and on. You can get gender reassignment surgery on the NHS. If I break a bone I will get seen immediately. When I'm with a friend who's having a bad day and she cuts herself I can call the ambulance to mop her up.

I wouldn't have this option if I had to pay for it. The NHS is a wonderful thing. Don't believe the lies.

Here's a petition. Go read the comments. Please consider signing it.

*Maybe this reveals more about Palin's view of those with Down's, hmmm?
**Feminist Avatar has clarified this in the comments. Please read.


Feminist Avatar said...

It used to be the case that people with Down Syndrome in the UK were refused transplants (especially heart transplants which are often needed by people with Down Syndrome), because they didn't consider their life expectancy and quality of life worth the treatment- aka people are prioritised for transplants and they weren't even allowed on the list. Disability rights campaigners spent a long time getting this changed and it only changed quite recently (in the 1990s I think). So the Down Syndrome comment isn't entirely crazy; it's just out of date.

Saranga said...

Hi FA, thanks for the clarification. I'll go make an edit now.

James Ashelford said...

Yeah, God knows how many of my friends and family would have been dead years ago under American-style health care.

Before I was even born my Dad was in a motorcycle accident that nearly cost him his life, his treatment continues to this day.

I can't understand the seemingly irrational fear the US has over state healthcare (or tax-funded initiatives in general). Probably jut old-fashioned fear of socialism, I guess. Sad, really.

P.S. if you ever really want to win an argument about socialism working in America? Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal.

Saranga said...

Tell me more about Roosevelt and the new deal..
(I haven't looked at US political history for ten years)