Saturday, 15 August 2009

The value of universal healthcare

Janice Turner's column in this morning's Times is one of the sharpest defences of the NHS and best indictments of the shortcomings of American healthcare that I have read:
I happened to read Senator Grassley’s statement that in Britain the 77-year-old Ted Kennedy would not have received treatment for his brain tumour, at the bedside of my 86-year-old father. Mr Grassley’s view that “when you get to be 77, your life is considered less valuable under these [NHS] systems” seemed rather surreal, as my old pa, who collapsed at home, was brain- scanned until it was discovered that he had suffered a minor stroke. As a consultant attended him, physios assessed him and he was found a place in a rehabilitation unit, where he will spend a month recovering, I thought how the life of this elderly man — no high-born statesman but a person of modest means — was treated as immensely precious. Throughout this difficult week, in which I was plunged abruptly into the dark labyrinth that is geriatric care, I gave thanks that the least of my worries — and more importantly my father’s — was money.
Of course, the NHS needs reform, and the Labour government has done - and is doing - much to introduce choice, shorter waiting lists, cleaner and more pleasant wards. Indeed, a danger of the crudity of the debate as it has been framed by the 'eccentric' Daniel Hannan is that the Conservatives retreat further into the dishonest bubble of complacency on health policy that has been effortlessly occupied by BMA spokesman Andrew Lansley since he became shadow health secretary.

An end to entitlements on waiting times, as the Tories propose, will bring back the extreme examples of waits that have so exercised the Republican right. There will be plenty of A&E horror stories again, and an end to the 18 week diagnosis to treatment guarantee.

Nevertheless, the great principle of the NHS, as Turner says, is its underlying principle of universality. Preserving that is what matters.

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