In my upcoming memoir, I write about my second measles infection at the age of twenty-two. The occasion was memorable because it was my first brush with Britain’s National Health Service. The time was 1960, so the system, put in place in 1948, had been around for a while. To be honest, it was a wonderful experience which included my dental as well as medical care. Home visits were common. Doctors made their rounds in the afternoons, just as Doc Martin does in the television series of the same title — except my doctor had a kindlier bedside manner.
Growing up in the U. S., I’d been taught socialized medicine was a form of mass malpractice. That wasn’t true. Available to all, Briton’s system kept the population healthy regardless of a person’s economic status. Imagine my surprise, 50 years later, to read the British Red Cross says the system is experiencing a “humanitarian crisis.” (“View,” Bloomberg Businessweek, January 15, 2018, pg. 14.)
An aging population is part of the problem. Prolonged life spans and increased medical costs are squeezing the program at both ends. In addition, too many patients are looking for too few doctors. The waiting period for surgery gets longer and hospital beds are scarce. Worse, the mushrooming medical debt drains resources from other social and educational services.
Ironically, the amount of money being poured into the institution isn’t enough. Where Europe is concerned, Britain hovers at the bottom in infant mortality, cancer survival and avoidable deaths. (Ibid pg. 14) Money won’t solve every problem, of course. Nonetheless, Britons will have to pay more to save their beloved service.
We Americans can learn from Britain’s experience . We do need a national health care system. But we mustn’t be lulled by the rosy promises of politicians. Coverage for all won’t be cheap and a “trickle down” economy won’t lift all boats – not when it means the wealthy are paying fewer taxes. But even the rich can’t supply the necessary funds. National health care will require all of us to pay more.
(Originally published 2/21/18)