In some ways, the UK's National Health Service is admirable and in others it is terrible - both provide lessons for us. I will note that from 1993-2002, I used to work for a British company and in countless trips to England had the opportunity to watch the local news on medical issues as well as talk to colleagues about their own personal experiences. In addition, I read BBC online just for an international perspective.
It is admirable in that an entire country gets basically free medical care. NHS basically takes care of one from cradle to grave. It is a great concept and the UK has essentially made it work for decades.
However, a few thoughts on the downside:
- I was in the UK during a particularly bad outbreak of the flu. Hospital emergency rooms were overworked because of the number of sick patients and the reduced staff (because they were out sick). As a result, scheduled medical procedures were delayed to take care of the ill people. Consequently, one woman had her cancer surgery delayed four times until it was too late.
- No one I knew in the UK used the NHS dentists. Apparently they were awful. Any one who could afford it went to a private dentist and paid out of pocket. This just gives me the heebie-jeebies - the idea of a bad dentist poking around my mouth with medical instruments and drills. EEEKKK!
- Although medical treatment was free and available to all, waiting times were notorious. The BBC just published an article about how the waiting times are at an all time high where 15% of patients waited over 18 weeks for treatment. 18 weeks is 4.5 months!
These are some lessons to be learned as the new American national health care program is put together.