The Independent newspaper in Britain ran an article titled The Brutal Truth About America’s healthcare, focusing on lack of health services in a poor section of Los Angeles. But at the same time, The Independent also ran a column by Christina Patterson in which Ms. Patterson related her personal misfortune with the British health system in which left her so frustrated that she was tempted to compare the British health system to Abu Ghraib prison abuse:
I had cancer and the NHS saved my life. I’m extremely pleased to be alive, and I’m very, very grateful. But the process, it has to be said, lacked grace.
I will not bore you now with the contradictory statements by consultants, or the three-hour waits for appointments that were cancelled, or the invitations to appointments for dates which had passed. I won’t bore you with the lost files, and the lost X-rays, and the mammogram that turned out to be an X-ray of an ankle, or the surgeon who told me that he thought my approach to a mastectomy (which I didn’t, in the end, have) was “a bit heavy”. I won’t bore you with the nurses who sighed and sulked and were soldered to their chairs, apart from the one who asked me, in a rare fit of bewildered humanity, why I was crying. Er, because I’ve got cancer and I’m still in my 30s? A teensy bit upsetting, non?
But I will tell you this. The big problem with the NHS is the people in it. Maybe they start out wanting to help their fellow human beings, to lift them, as our dear leader says, from pain to comfort, from despair to hope. Maybe they fill out a form in triplicate (two of which get lost) saying that they want to help people, and get sent off to training schools: the consultants to one where they learn to flick through a file with a sense of harried self-importance and turn to you briefly and sneer; the receptionists to one where they learn to regard the arrival of a patient as a nasty intrusion in a nice day’s chatting, and one to be punished with a lengthy wait; and the nurses… It would be frivolous to mention Abu Ghraib. But tempting.
At the end of her column, Ms. Patterson concludes that she still supports taxpayer-funded universal health care. But why? No explanation other than that such a system is the “hallmark of a civilised society.”
How strange that someone who had a disastrous experience with the British health system still supports such a system. Since she compared — or almost compared — the British health system to Abu Ghraib, I’ll invoke Stockholm Syndrome as the explanation. If all one has ever known is government care, one sympathizes with even bad government care.
The bigger take-away is that there are problems in certain communities in the U.S. with health care delivery, which can be remedied with focused efforts within the existing health care system; but there is a systemic problem in Britain which is not amenable to remedy because the entire system is the problem.