American Hospital Any Day

BY JAMES BEMBRIDGE

“Lessons will be learnt” – Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, 2017

“We will obviously have to learn lessons”– Lesley Griffiths, Welsh Health Minister, 2013.

“Lessons will be learnt to ensure it never happens again” – Nadine Dorries, Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, 2019.

I’d like to preface this glorified rant by testifying that it is not my wish to see poor people die, and in any case, if it were, then I’d never be foolish enough to put it in writing.

Allow me to make a modest proposition that if the phrase most synonymous with our healthcare system is “lessons will be learnt” then perhaps it’s not that enviable of a healthcare system after all? And to add to that, as we sane people agree that socialism kills, then it might not have been the best idea to establish our health system on its Utopian and unreachable principles?  Defenders of the NHS, when faced with statistics proving its inefficiencies, will often say ‘but at least it is based on values of compassion and equality’. If that doesn’t terrify you, then perhaps it ought to? It’s what organised religions predicate themselves on. The question is, who is the master of this cult and how many must die to appease him?

Last week I awoke slightly more hungover than usual, a condition not helped by that old sod Bill in the apartment below and his incessant inclination towards playing salsa music at the highest decibels. I’ve stopped bothering to post Dignitas flyers through his door as he never takes the hint – in fact, I now suspect that he only hangs on to spite me and that he never even liked salsa music to begin with.

I decided to watch an episode of BBC’s Question Time. This episode came from Wallasey, to which I’ve never been but if the audience is at all representative of the place then, god willing, I never shall. It was the usual pig swill of confected outrage, pious pronouncements and the balanced audience for which the show is so widely celebrated.

It was only as it  drew to a close that I felt my migraine begin to worsen when one of the panellists, an American, broke out into a sermon about how blessed we are to endure social healthcare – she may have said ‘enjoy’ but that notion would be so inconceivable and alien to me that my mind would have immediately reinterpreted it to protect my sanity.

This wandering prophet then went on to warn us of the dangers in doing a deal with her barren land of sinful, unbridled capitalism: “if you do a deal with the United States of America, you’re going to be in trouble with the NHS, I’m telling you right now.” This was cheered dutifully by the local peasantry and I must confess, by myself a little too, but only because I so wished it to be true.

Let’s dispel this notion that Britain has anything resembling a National Health Service. What we have is unconvincing drug dealers operating from what often look to be 90’s youth hostels. When is the last time you saw your GP and the answer to your ailment didn’t come in the form of something being shilled by Ruby Wax?

I have several health problems: two being a swallowing disorder and muscles pulling when I talk. For this, I was told to take anxiety medicine despite the fact that I have no reason to be anxious nor do I display signs of anxiety. As soon as I had the good sense to go private, I was immediately given the appropriate test required for my condition, that being an x- ray swallowing test (the so-called Barium test) and I am soon to receive therapy which will hopefully cure me – but where would I be now had I stayed with the NHS?

I would pursue legal action were it not for the fact that this particular NHS doctor was extraordinarily handsome – well, that and the NHS closes ranks quicker than a Scot recoils from a bill, so what’s the point?

Any conversation of NHS reform is often marred by voices from people who owe their livelihoods to it –  a sure way to lead to unbiased critical discussion. NHS nurses screeching from their foam-flecked, withered lips about Tory cuts to their hospital wards whilst inadvertently making the case for more stringent mental health evaluation. I’m not sure why applause is so readily given to NHS nurses who claim to be driven to using food banks when, looking at them, they are presumably eating them out of business.

I could retreat to safer battlegrounds on this conversation like ‘the German model’ or the French or the Swiss, but no, I don’t need a licence to shoot some quickfire facts at you on US healthcare:

  • As of 1994, 40 per cent of UK cancer patients are never able to see an oncologist
  • The US has 38.1 MRI scanners per million people vs the UK’s meagre 6.1 per million.
  • 9 per cent of Americans with prostate cancer were still alive after five years compared to just 51.1 per cent in the UK.
  • UK ranks bottom for cancer survival rates for 5 types of tumour whilst US cancer survival rates are among the highest in the world.

I suggest that the disparity of cancer survival rates is due to specialist scans being more readily available in the US than the UK, where patients have to get through gatekeeper GP’s often to no avail – unless you are a good looking twenty-something who wants a rhinoplasty; in which case you can seemingly obtain what you want so long as you give the doctor a crash course in gynaecology.

Only a few months ago, a Labour MP was writing to parliament to nationalise all CT scans. Yeah, great idea. Not.

Well, winter is coming and with it will come the inevitable NHS ‘winter crisis’. I am not sure why we need to name NHS crises by season as it is in perpetual crisis but it is true that the NHS lets more die in this particular season than most (50,100 was the figure from 2018).

To hell with Dignitas, I may just as well be sending Bill to the NHS, for we can be sure of two things: he’ll neither leave, nor will any lessons ever be learnt.