How the NHS Saved My Mum

When my mum was diagnosed with cancer, she saw an oncologist within days of her diagnosis. She was treated at one of the world’s leading cancer hospitals, and had surgery performed by two of the world’s leading surgeons (each in his own field). She had plastic surgery to reconstruct her breast after a mastectomy.

My mum. And an egg.She had pioneering radiosurgery at (at the time) one of the world’s only hospitals performing the procedure – a procedure which certainly saved her life.

She was offered the opportunity to trial advanced chemotherapy which not only prolonged her own life, but dramatically changed the survival rates of women like her all over the world.

She was moved to hospitals outside her postcode in order to take advantage of these new and revolutionary treatments, each of which added months and years to her dramatically shortened lifespan.

Seven years after her initial diagnosis, on a weekend – when the senior doctors aren’t in the hospitals, and the NHS is supposedly at its worst – the cancer dramatically and suddenly metastasised in her brain for a third time, causing a massive seizure, which she never recovered from.

The newly qualified, junior doctors and the nursing staff who cared for her – and her family – during these final days were nothing short of superb.

All of this care was provided free at the point of service, as part of the NHS.

During this seven year period, I came into contact with a great many other people who had family, friends and themselves been diagnosed with cancer. Most had the same or similar concerns as me and my mum.

The Americans in our situation did not. They were worried about  how they would pay for their treatment. They worried about whether their insurance company would cover their treatment, or whether it would only cover part of it. They despaired as their insurance cover was dropped due to ‘pre-existing conditions’. They worried about affording chemotherapy prescription copayments, and – perhaps most horrible of all – they worried about leaving behind tens of thousands of dollars of medical bills after their death.

This is the intolerable, horrific world we are protected from by the NHS.

This is how the NHS saves and protects all of us every single day. Each and every Briton knows that he does not need to worry about his healthcare; that his medical bills have already been paid for.

We have had this wonderful state of affairs for so long that we have begun to take it for granted.

There is a misconception that the NHS is bloated and inefficient. We currently spend 9.8% of our GDP in return for (according to the WHO), the 18th ranked healthcare in the world:

Americans pay nearly 18% of their GDP for their healthcare – which is ranked 37th.

The NHS may not be perfect – but we should rightly feel proud of what it achieves on a daily basis.

Which is why Lansley’s toxic health ‘reforms’ are so utterly intolerable.

4 thoughts on “How the NHS Saved My Mum

  • 6th March 2012 at 12:32

    This post exhibits the bizarre insularity which seems to characterise discussion of healthcare in this country – the idea that there are only two countries in the world, the UK and the USA, and the only two choices of healthcare systems are the NHS and the American system.

    The Lansley reforms, whatever else they may be, are not proposing to change our system to the American one. It is nonsense to suggest they are. NHS staff do great work, but the NHS is very far from being “the envy of the world”.

    There are a lot of other countries in the world whose healthcare systems are rated as good or better than ours but which spend less – the chart you link to shows no clear relationship between spending and quality. Look at this for more detail:

    Singapore, for example, is rated 4th on quality but 38th on spending – clearly they must be doing something right. Oman is ranked 8th on quality, but 62nd on spending. Funny how your chart leaves them out, isn’t it?

    The NHS is indeed not perfect, and we should be trying to improve it. How about some constructive criticism of the reforms, instead of opposing any change with straw-man arguments about the American system?

    • 6th March 2012 at 12:54

      My chart leaves them out because they aren’t OECD countries (although I did deliberately include China just for comparison, as they’re a big country who have a universal healthcare system – which is rated rather poorly, as it happens)

      It is probably worth noting that Singapore and Oman are quite small, rich countries, though – they each have a population less than half that of London! – and so their percentage expenditure on healthcare is perforce rather low.

      I’m not sure it’s all that meaningful in comparison to us, however.

      I think what the chart shows is rather that we have things to learn from nations like Japan – who, despite slightly lower healthcare spending than the UK have markedly higher performance – and France, who spend more than we do but are rated the best in the world.

      It’s probably worth taking a look at those nations who spend more than we do but have inferior systems – to see what doesn’t work (at a cursory glance a large private healthcare industry seems to be perversely inefficient, but I haven’t done a proper analysis or anything)

      I do take issue with the idea that Lansley’s reforms – which deliberately introduce a more free market economy into the NHS – aren’t choosing to take us in a more American direction.

      It’s the stated intent of Lansley, and a stated goal of the reforms, to improve the NHS through ‘increased competition’ – which is at the heart of the US healthcare service, and – I believe – at the heart of its problems.

      Free market competition works very well, unless we’re talking about things which are inherently unprofitable.

      I think healthcare is one of those things. We should endeavour to make it as efficient as possible – but we certainly shouldn’t be turning it over to entities which are watching their profit margins more closely than they are watching their patients.

      We certainly shouldn’t be deciding our healthcare providers (even on a local level) based on which are the most affordable; but rather on which provide the highest quality of care.

      I think in the UK we already accept that healthcare – and the NHS – is going to be relatively expensive – any reforms we introduce should be aimed at raising our QUALITY of care, not reducing its cost.

      It’s certainly ludicrous to try and do both simultaneously (which is another thing Lansley claims he is doing)

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