Recent outpourings of bile from right-wing American nut-jobs have touched a nerve here in the UK. These assorted head-cases (Exhibit A: Sarah Palin) had the temerity to slag off the UK’s National Health System (NHS) in the course of comparing the Obama administration’s plans for public heathcare to the first steps towards a communist dictatorship. It was that sort of carefully worded, balanced opinion-sharing that brought the matter to the attention of the British press.
I’m pleased to say the average reaction from press and public alike here was one of anger. While British people might frequently moan about NHS waiting lists, hospital closures and outbreaks of MRSA (google it), they generally agree that a) the system works in the UK and b) you really shouldn’t throw stones when you live in a glass house. That is to say, when your own health system is a horribly unfair and unsocial monstrosity that favours big business and the pharma industry, which results in people going bankrupt in order to pay for emergency medical care and medicine, you shouldn’t really point to another country’s system and scream like one of the zombies from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (again, google it).
Thousand of average British people, not to mention a broad cross-section of the press, have come out in defence of the NHS. Whether this be support via Twitter or sharing their own personal stories on blogs and on TV, they’ve illustrated to doubters that the system does in fact work for the vast majority of people. A perfect healthcare system does not exist. Nobody would claim the NHS is perfect, but it’s bloody good at what it does. It’s made up of medical professionals and support staff who are humans, ergo mistakes will happen. But the provision of accessible and free healthcare for all citizens is something to be extremely proud of.
And so we come to my own story.
I’m Irish and in the 10 years since I moved to the UK, I’ve been amazed by the care provided by the NHS. About five years ago, I was diagnosed with idiopathic (i.e. “We dont’ know where that came from!”) epilepsy. I seizured my way out of bed, damaging my neck in the process. I was ambulanced to hospital, had x-rays and a CAT-scan. I had no idea what was wrong with me, but got nothing but sympathy and professionalism from the NHS staff I came into contact with. Within days, my epilepsy was diagnosed (after additional tests including a sleep EEG and an MRI) and I was again home with a bucketful of medication.
And what did I pay for this excellent healthcare?
Of course, I’d already paid taxes, some of which went towards public healthcare. But I didn’t have to provide a credit card to receive treatment or pay directly for my medication when leaving the hospital.
Since then, I’ve seen a team of neuropsychologists and neurologists several times a year to monitor my condition and attempt to get to the bottom of the problem (we still haven’t). And I say “we” as they speak to me like I’m an adult, including me in conversations and treating my opinion like it matters. Yes, the fact that I’m a psychologist probably plays a part in all of this.
I also get a refill of my prescriptions every few months, but have to pay for these. The princely sum of just over £7. You read that correctly.
I can’t imagine what financial situation I would be in if I’d had to pay for all of my care at market rates. All of the tests, the hospital stays, the *ambulance*! Not to mention the tons of meds I’ve consumed in the last few years. As I said, it’s not perfect. I sometimes have to sit through shocking delays at my Neurologist’s clinic. The rotating personnel on the neuropsychology team is sometimes confusing and frustrating. But. I. Cope.
So. My message to the right-wing shock-jocks and failed politicians who have dragged the NHS into their own domestic “debate”? Don’t make grand pronouncements about the failing healthcare system of a so-called ally, misrepresenting its aims, values and organisation when you’re more concerned with scoring political points that imparting anything that approximates the truth.
Contrary to what you may have heard, the NHS didn’t turn the UK into a Communist dictatorship. There are no “death panels” deciding which old people to euthanise (Palin, you vacuous pig-ignorant moron). Communists are not forcing women to have abortions, nor are they preventing others from getting pregnant in the first place. The doctors and nurses and their para-medical colleagues work incredibly tough, long hours to provide decent healthcare for the population of the UK.
Hands off the NHS. You don’t know what you’re talking about.