I did want today to write something about comics, and I’ve also got a playlist I want to post, but I felt compelled to write this after various news reports over the last couple of days. Unlike most of my writing (to which I retain the rights for various reasons, I’ve decided to license this piece as Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License because I want people to share this by whatever means. I’ve emailed the following to as many of my USian friends as I can think of and have valid email addresses for (and at least a dozen who it turns out I *don’t* have valid email addresses for, if the bounce messages are anything to go by…):
I am writing to you because you are a friend of mine, because of various statements that have been made by American politicians and journalists about Britain’s National Health Service.
I do not like to try to interfere in American politics, because how you run your country is your own business, but your politicians have been lying, and they have been lying about me and my wife and many of our friends and relatives, so I feel an obligation to set the record straight.
Many of your politicians and journalists have been saying things like “Ted Kennedy wouldn’t get treatment for his brain tumour in the UK because of his age” (a Republican senator called Chuck Grassley said that). Sarah Palin said that in the UK babies with Down’s Syndrome would have to go before a ‘death panel’. And so on. I’m sure you’ve all heard many claims like this yourself.
These claims are lies, pure and simple. They’re not ‘opinions’ that people can disagree about, they’re not things that can be debated, they’re not honest mistakes, they’re out-and-out lies.
Many of you will know that I worked for the NHS for about three years. Some of you will also know that Holly, my wife, still does. Do we strike you as people who would work for an organisation that killed people? Your politicians and journalists are accusing us of being knowing accomplices to murder.
According to the CIA World Factbook, British people live on average seven months longer than Americans. Now, that doesn’t say much about either country’s health-care system, especially when you take lifestyle differences into account, but what you *can* tell from that is that we’re not killing our old people – you don’t get a high life expectancy by killing people!
The tiny grain of truth in all of these lies is that in the NHS, an organisation called the National Institute for Clinical Excellence decides what treatments the NHS will and will not pay for. It does this by measuring how much extra healthy life a given treatment will give a patient, and how much it costs – just like your insurance company does. All healthcare systems have a budget – no system can spend an infinite amount of money, after all – so choices have to be made. The difference is, in your system, the choice is made based on whether you can afford to pay for it. Here, the choice is made based on how much you need it. If you’re 77 years old, like Ted Kennedy, and you have a brain tumour, you’ll get treatment so long as there’s a good chance of it working and giving you a few more years of good life. If there isn’t much chance of that, the government won’t pay it, that’s all. Just like your insurance company won’t pay for expensive treatments that won’t help you, neither will the British government.
And no-one is stopped from paying for treatment if it’s not funded by the NHS. People in Britain can still get private health insurance if they want to and can afford it, and can ask for treatments that the NHS don’t provide. Mostly they don’t, because it works for most people.
I know at least one homeless person who has been given treatment for cancer – and he was homeless before the treatments, not because of them – in Britain, if you’re sick you will get treated, no matter how much money you have. And no matter how old you are, or how disabled.
One American news source recently said that Professor Stephen Hawking would be allowed to die over here, because of his illness. In fact Prof. Hawking has lived in the UK all his life and has nothing but praise for his treatment by the NHS. Sarah Palin says people with Down’s Syndrome would be refused treatment – that would be news to the people with Down’s Syndrome I used to work with, many of whom had had heart operations on the NHS.
On average, people in the USA spend twice as much on healthcare as people in Britain – and more than any country in the world. Despite that, according to the World Health Organisation, the USA’s health system is 37th in the world, while the British one is 18th.
There are plenty of faults with the British health care system – and I hope that your legislators learn from them and get you a better system than we have – but it works. We do not kill old people. We do not kill disabled people. If we did, then Holly and I , instead of working for the NHS, would be fighting against it with every ounce of strength we have.
There are arguments that can be made against our system, just as there are arguments for it, and if you agree with those arguments then that’s fine – I have no intention to change your mind here. I am just trying to let you know that I am not an accessory to murder, and that anyone who says I am is a liar.