Health Care in the U.K.

Terry Gallagher, a reader from England, responded in the comments of a recent post to the description of health care in the UK in Republican scare stories:

I am from the UK, specifically England, and, like most people on this side of ‘the pond’, we are amazed at the Republican comments being issued about the NHS in the UK. Quite frankly, they are simply trying to mislead the American people with a load of complete lies.

There is no ageism in the NHS – people in their 80’s and 90’s get heart surgery provided, and this is the only proviso, that they are well enough for the surgery. Anyone who is so ill that they are almost certain to die on the table will be told this and offered alternative care.

I can see my doctor in an emergency (and by the way, house visits are still done in the UK when the patient is too ill to get to the surgery or has swine flu!) and be admitted by ambulance straight from the doctor’s surgery if that is the need. No wasting time or waiting lists there! For non urgent cases, we have a guarantee of 18 weeks from seeing the GP to the actual definitive treatment (surgery if a surgical referral or starting the treatment if a medical referral) This includes all the outpatient consultations and necessary medical scans, MRI, CT, PET scans, echo cardiograms or whatever is necessary.

On one occasion, I was in hospital having tests for a problem which suddenly became acute. At 715pm on the Saturday evening, I was hurting so much, despite the pain relief, I asked the nurse to see the doctor. The on-call doctor came at 7.20 and didn’t lik the look of me, so called the on-call colo-rectal surgeon. He arrived at 7.30 and decided to operate. Because of grade 4 difficult intubation, the Professor of Anaesthetics at the attached medical school was summoned form home and by 8.00pm I was in theatre having my colon removed – having suddenly developed toxic megacolon. Now can one complain about that?

As a patient with two ostomies (although one is enough!) I get all my prescriptions free of charge. Also children of school age, those with certain long term medical conditions pregnant women and six months after the birth of their child, the over 60’s and those on low incomes all get free prescriptions too. Those who have to pay for their prescriptions (about 1/5 of the total!)can buy a season ticket (at around £100 per year) which means they do not pay anything for individual prescriptions, no matter what the cost of medication.

I see my dentist every six months for a check up but can see her often the same day if I am in pain and there is an emergency service for overnight and weekends with instant access.

I do not think you have anything to fear from ’social medicine’ – rather the opposite where insurance companies decide what care you can or can’t receive, provided you can afford the co-pay, whereas here that decision is in the hands of the doctors who decide what needs to be done.

Like many in countries which do not have your system, we do not want to go down that road: we want to keep our social medicine because it works for the benefit of the patient, not the shareholders of the insurance companies.

Regardless of what one thinks of the system in the UK, it must also be kept in mind that a system such as this is not being proposed in the United States. The proposed system would vary greatly from the system in the UK, both in preserving private insurance coverage and in preserving the private practice of medicine.

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