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The Magical British Health System
Last uploaded : Wednesday 15th Dec 2004 at 01:42
Contributed by : Carol Gould


This is an Awards for All article.

This has been a strange time for me. It is nearly a month since I have written an editorial, and this is no coincidence.

Having just spent a long break in the United States, a kaleidoscope of impressions and emotions has only served to muddle my creative processes.

The one aspect of life in Britain that most profoundly strikes me upon my return is the magnificent health care system. When I was in the USA, people from varied backgrounds and professions were exercised beyond any semblance of normality about the cost of health insurance; the forty-five million uninsured Americans and the bankruptcy-producing costs of prophylactic medications. I heard countless horror stories about spiralling insurance costs and prohibitive prescription drug prices.

During my recent visits to the USA I was plagued by ill health and by a crippling condition in my right leg. Having heard endless stories of woe from the American people I encountered on my multi-city visit, I was wary of going to a hospital. Even though I had travel insurance with an old and trusted British underwriter, I had heard horror stories about people being hit for five-figure bills even whilst insured.

I waited until my return to Britain to see a doctor. My bright and cheery ?surgery? (medical practice) full of welcoming staff provided me with the much-needed checkup and a prescription refill for the pills I take every day. I was told I needed a repeat of the comprehensive blood tests completed a year ago. All of this involved no exchange of money. When I went to the chemist (pharmacist) to have the large prescription filled, I was handed my bag of boxed medications and no money changed hands. Each prescription costs ?6.40 in Great Britain, but those of us on lifetime drugs pay ?91 a year (about $180) for an unlimited supply of prescribed drugs. Having been a British taxpayer all my adult life I am delighted that in some small way my contribution to the common good has made this wonderful system possible.

However, when I was interviewed this summer by a Kerry campaign executive in Boston, he became apoplectic when I said I might like to talk to audiences about socialised medicine. He might as well have been a reactionary McCarthyite for his fury at the word ?socialised.? I was told that I would not be welcome at any Kerry event if I so much as whispered a word about the British medical system. When I suggested I could refer to the majestic British medical system as ?the National Health Service? I was warned again that this would be an inappropriate subject for a Kerry crowd. When I went to hear Sen John McCain speak in Friendship Heights, the audience of retirees clapped when I asked him about the spiralling cost of medical and pharmaceutical costs. But he, too, seemed distinctly uncomfortable about the topic. I am not so na?ve as to believe that the pharmaceutical and insurance companies are shrinking violets when it comes to lobbying the corridors of government.

Let me explain before my American readers go ballistic. In Great Britain, politicians of all viewpoints revere the National Health Service. It will never be damaged by any political party in my lifetime. The British economy is healthy and we have nothing to compare with the huge American budget deficit. The NHS has never bankrupted this country. Some of my medications are manufactured in the Third World and I am not dead yet. Our doctors and consultants are amongst the most erudite and sought-after in the world. I feel honoured to be in the presence of a world-renowned heart specialist at the famed St Mary?s teaching Hospital (the same institution in which Dr Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin) and walk out with dignity -- not being harassed about my insurance cover.

No-one in Britain goes uncared for; the provisions for the disabled and elderly are not the best in the world but they are improving.

So, this is the little talk I wanted to give to the Kerry audiences but was not permitted to; I hope it has proven interesting and that you will be inspired to read more about the history of the great institution known as the British National Health Service.


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