Whilst temporarily resident in upstate New York I have had numerous visits from friends and family in the UK. Sadly, one of them has had cause to sample the US Healthcare system. This was as a result of a fractured Femur, requiring an emergency hip replacement and 2 weeks in an Inpatient rehabilitation facility prior to repatriation to the UK last week.
I am pleased to report that the care provided was excellent once the insurance status had been confirmed by the hospital. Whilst the experience of the ED (in mid-town Manhattan) was in many ways similar to a visit to a UK Emergency Room, the other aspects of care seemed somewhat less frantic and had a more routine feel than would probably have been the case in the UK.
Despite the difference in pace and the less busy feel, the main difference as far as I could see was not the quality of healthcare delivered, but the entitlement to it in the first place. In the UK, all UK residents qualify for free universal healthcare at the point of delivery (with the main exceptions being dentistry and medication charges). This fact caused disbelief when mentioned to medical and administrative staff in the US healthcare facility with a response along the lines of ‘What, even the poor people?’
Indeed, in the UK, the whole population has a right of access to free (tax-funded) healthcare – even those who are less able to afford to pay charges themselves. Arguably it is for this group that the principles of the NHS since its foundation in 1948 make the most difference. It is for this reason that the NHS is a national treasure and needs to be cherished for generations to come, regardless of the outcome of the forthcoming General Election on May 7th.
Yes we need to work on the efficiency. We have to ensure optimised organisations are making the most of the finite resources available. But in the end the fundamental principles of the NHS enshrined since its inception in 1948 are now at stake and we need to ask ourselves what service we want to hand on to future generations.