Oct 182009
Authors: Ian Bezek

“We’ve got to be more like Britain.” We’ve heard sentiment similar to that countless times from advocates of public health care in the United States.

Michael Moore famously went to Britain as part of his movie “Sicko” and found its health care to be outstanding.

But once we dig further into Britain’s system, questions arise, leading one to wonder, is the rush for national health care simply a case of the neighbor’s grass looking greener?

For starters, let’s look at the recent case of the Mid-Staffordshire hospitals. A British government investigation revealed a “gross and terrible breach of trust” according to Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of England’s National Health Service. Estimates found that roughly 1,000 patients died unnecessarily due to the hospitals’ failures.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported the following problems:

/ Poorly trained nurses turned off equipment they didn’t know how to use,

/ Patients were left for hours in soiled bedclothes,

/ Patients received no food or drink,

/ Patients received either the wrong medications or no medications at all,

/ Blood and feces were left in bathrooms and on floors, and

/ Doctors were diverted away from treating patients in serious condition to patients with more minor issues to avoid breaching the four-hour waiting time limit.

If this appalling tragedy was one isolated case, I wouldn’t be too concerned. But the British national health care system faces numerous widespread problems.

British author James Delingpole writes that the British health care service is, “so poor that 55 percent of senior doctors take out private medical insurance . (and) cancer survival rates are the worst in the civilized world.”

So doctors don’t use the British health care system, instead opting to get covered by those evil private insurers. Also, if you get cancer in Britain, too bad, so sad — you’re out of luck.

Of course, there are good points to the British health care system. Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw writes that, “British healthcare is great . as long as you walk on four legs.”

Mankiw then refers readers to an article by British physician Anthony Daniels who wrote in the Wall Street Journal that, “In the last few years, I have had the opportunity to compare the human and veterinary health services of Great Britain, and on the whole it is better to be a dog.”

Daniels continues, saying, “Nevertheless, there is one drawback to the superior care British dogs receive by comparison with that of British humans: They have to pay for it, there and then. By contrast, British humans receive health care that is free at the point of delivery.”

What a surprise, when people buy care for their dogs, it is better than the free care “given” to them by the British government.

Of course, at least Britain doesn’t have “death panels” or anything terrible like what conservatives frighten us with.

Well actually, the British newspaper The Times reports that, “An 80-year-old grandmother who doctors identified as terminally ill and left to starve to death has recovered after her outraged daughter intervened.”

The Times reported that, “Hazel Fenton, from East Sussex, is alive nine months after medics ruled she had only days to live, withdrew her antibiotics and denied her artificial feeding. The former school matron had been placed on a controversial care plan intended to ease the last days of dying patients.”

However, concerns arose after the NHS, according to British doctors, started using the program to end the lives of elderly people who weren’t dying, leading to charges that Britain is involuntarily euthanizing people.

As the London Daily Telegraph reported last month, “As a result a national wave of discontent is building up, as family and friends witness the denial of fluids and food to patients.”

So, in our short tour of the British health care system, we see elderly people having their lives ended against their will, hospitals maintaining third-world conditions and dogs getting better care than humans.

Let’s just say that I’m not calling my congresswoman demanding we get a system more like that. While our system isn’t perfect, let’s think long and hard before adopting legislation that makes our health care system more British or socialized.

Editorials Editor Ian Bezek is a senior economics major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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