I must say, as a British citizen familiar with the National Health Service, I found Carol Gould’s recent PJM article praising the NHS quite fascinating.
From an emotional point of view, I could see why she praised them because they saved her friend’s life. (However, surely this is the job of an intensive care unit.)
But when I read further and realized that a major part of her praise came because the health care was “free,” it enraged me. Gould is an American who has lived in Great Britain for many years; my family and I have used the NHS system on a regular basis for over 40 years.
First and foremost, NHS health care is not free: every working person in the UK pays National Insurance whether they use the system or not. In addition, recently the British government has imposed measures to penalize those who choose to opt for private medical care, despite the fact that in many areas, NHS waiting lists for operations are too long.
The NHS has garnered very poor reviews where cancer treatment is concerned. Many of my parents’ friends have died because the NHS has failed to diagnose cancer early enough to be successfully treated.
The NHS is a particularly expensive beast to run and “cost” determines the treatment it offers.
My experience with NHS care, or what one of my friends referred to as “torture,” is utterly different from the almost fairytale description of Carol’s friend’s treatment. I broke my ankle and was rushed to “accident and emergency” at Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Hospital in London (also a teaching hospital) at around 9:30 p.m. I was left waiting for about an hour and a half, in a cold corridor on a hard wood chair. Finally I was sent for an x-ray. Only when they saw the x-ray did they realize I had actually broken my ankle on both sides, whereby my foot was actually dislocated from my leg. Then they asked me if I wanted painkillers. They proceeded to set my foot into a temporary cast. At 3:00 a.m., I was finally admitted to the Nightingale Ward — before being taken for another x-ray to see if my ankle was correctly set in the temporary plaster. It was not and it was painfully re-set again. I can only describe the nursing care in this ward as the worst I have ever encountered. Indifferent, they left me lying helpless, without the cover of so much as a sheet, naked on the hospital bed, with the door wide open for all to see for almost half an hour. Someone did bring me a robe. This was thrown onto a chair, out of my reach. This was a common pattern: putting things out of my reach. This included bowls of water to wash myself with and food to eat. Their attitude was callous. I was thankful that I had family and friends to sit with me and help me.