Health Care in England: Not Your Cup of Tea: Introduction

Published September 1, 2001

It is one thing to read about the National Health Care System (NHS) in England as reported by our mainstream media. It is quite different to experience first-hand how most English citizens have been trapped in a failing single-payer health care system.

With the exception of 10 percent of the population who subscribe to private health care insurance and medical care (a result of Margaret Thatcher’s privatization initiative), 90 percent still try to get timely medical care from the NHS bureaucracy.

All too frequently they don’t get care all; are subjected to queuing for 12 months or more; get better on their own; are sent to other countries for care; are shifted to the private sector for care; or die while on the waiting list to see a doctor or gain access to a hospital.

My recent fact-finding trip produced more evidence, both anecdotal and empirical, than I expected to find and served to reinforce my belief that single-payer health care is a cruel joke being played on gullible citizens. If not a cruel joke, then it is at best a hollow political promise to treat everyone the same while consistently breaking faith and treating no one the same.

Up the Learning Curve

I had the opportunity to learn from policy experts at the Kings Fund, the Adam Smith Foundation, and the Independent Health Association; I learned by reading white papers, studies, and documents introduced in Parliament; and I learned by listening to politicians who repeat their promises to fix the system, but never do.

I learned by listening to disillusioned doctors and nurses who can deliver quality medical care, but can’t deliver the quantity of care needed to meet the demand. I learned by visiting an inner-city hospital, where I saw patients on gurneys lined up like autos on a Los Angeles freeway. I also learned a great deal from the media, who, better than our own, report on the issue of health care with total disregard for political correctness.

When I left London a day before the last election, the great failing inherent in single-payer theory was clearly defined for me forever when London’s newspaper The Express boldly supported the NHS by reminding its readers, “Principles Are More Important Than Our Consumer Rights.”

The NHS Close Up

In the coming months I will share with you the good (there is some), the bad (there is much), and the ugly truth (the NHS is manipulating facts and figures) about England’s National Health Care System.

I will introduce you to real people with real problems; I will introduce you to the thinking of England’s finest social policy experts; and I will offer you quotes from the leaders of professional organizations who desperately seek change.

You will read what doctors and nurses have to say, possibly before they revolt and go on strike or resign from the NHS. And I will present enlightening data on why single-payer is failing and what could be done to set things right.

I do so in the hope you will come to appreciate the danger presented by domestic activists who would subject this country to the same flawed theory of single-payer health care currently failing not only those who support it, but those who are forced to endure it.

Defining the Terms

Activists in this country understand the negative connotation attached to terms like “national health care” and “socialized medicine,” so they’ve taken to using less threatening descriptions. Even the English have backed away, and frequently refer to their health care system as “public services.”

The term “universal health care” is incorrectly interchanged with “national health care.” Universal health care means health care “available to all.” Few would argue that “universal health care” is not a worthy goal . . . a goal we are close to achieving here in the U.S.

“Universal health care” is not “universal health insurance.” Here in the U.S., not everyone has a health insurance policy, but almost everyone has access to medical care, even if through hospital emergency rooms, paramedics, or free clinics.

“National health care” is the correct term to use to describe a health care industry “nationalized” by government and run by government edict or influence. It is synonymous with “socialized medicine.” And, while it is universal insurance coverage, it is most certainly not universal access to medical care.

The term “single-payer health care” has been popularized by the media in describing the Canadian system—or any system, like the NHS, where government collects taxes and charges most people a premium for the insurance. It is the government bureaucracy that writes all the rules of eligibility, establishes the formulae for delivery of care, rations the care to conserve money, and employs the medical professionals.

Single-payer health care is national health care, socialized medicine, and universal health insurance—but it is definitely not universal health care.

Coming Soon

In a forthcoming issue of Health Care News we will publish Part One of “English Health Care: Not Your Daily Cup of Tea.” We begin the series by examining the bloated NHS structure, its weaknesses, and its inability to respond to individual needs in a timely manner. I will look forward to your comments on the series; I can be reached by email at [email protected].