United Kingdom: An ailing health service
Britain’s National Health Service is in “chaos,” said Denis Campbell and Sarah Marsh in The Guardian. A surge in flu patients, colder weather, and high levels of respiratory illness have slammed hospitals across the country. Beds are full, patients are waiting on trolleys in hallways, and ambulances can’t respond quickly to emergency calls. “We are seeing conditions that people have not experienced in their working lives,” said Dr. Taj Hassan, head of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which represents ER doctors. This pressure has led the NHS in England to take the “unprecedented” step of postponing up to 55,000 non-urgent surgical procedures. Prime Minister Theresa May apologized, saying, “I know it is frustrating.”
This mess is the result of seven years of austerity by the ruling Conservative Party, said Dr. Ravi Jayaram in Independent.co.uk. The NHS has been consistently underfunded in a way that seems purposeful, as if the government wants a crisis so it can declare socialized medicine a failure and speed up the privatization of services. Just last fall, the boss of NHS England asked for an extra $5.5 billion for the coming winter crush, but the government gave only about a third of that. “Primary care services have been decimated,” so people go to the ER instead of their own doctor. And with Brexit approaching, we’re losing many doctors and nurses from European Union countries who no longer feel welcome in the U.K.
Britons are willing to spend more on their beloved NHS, said The Observer in an editorial. In much of the world, including the U.S., the poor get substandard care, or simply die of treatable conditions. Not here. Our single-payer system is not only free to all; it is also excellent. The Commonwealth Fund, a U.S. think tank, ranks the NHS as the safest, most effective, most affordable health-care system in the world—better than those of America, Sweden, and Germany. Yet the U.K. spends only about 10 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, while the U.S. spends a hefty 16 percent. Polls show that two-thirds of Britons favor a tax hike to shore up the NHS. There are “no excuses left for the government’s failure to act.”
Money alone won’t solve the problem, said The Mail on Sunday. The NHS is antiquated. It was designed “for a population of manual workers” who died young. Now, though, it must treat “millions of well-housed sedentary workers who eat too much and exercise too little”—and still live into their 80s. The whole system needs a redesign, said Camilla Cavendish in The Times. The NHS is “not the monolith of popular imagination,” but an unwieldy network of 700 organizations, including hospitals, mental health trusts, and regulators, which all charge one another fees and require massive amounts of paperwork. We need “one truly unified national medical system.” What we have now is a “ramshackle lifeboat held together with dotted lines and goodwill.” ■