It’s not been a good few weeks for Britain’s National Health Service since it was dragged into the debate over plans to reform the U.S. health care system. After U.S. opponents of ObamaCare and domestic critics — such as MEP Daniel Hannan — highlighted problems with the NHS (some very real, others exaggerated) to warn against the dangers of socialized medicine, defenders of our state-run system rallied to its defense, dismissing the concerns of U.S. conservatives as scaremongering.
One of the biggest areas of concern for those who oppose increasing government control over health care in the U.S. is the issue of end-of-life care, a debate that’s generally framed in terms of “pulling the plug on grandma” and “death panels.” Since I wrote the piece linked above, several stories have emerged in the British press suggesting that, despite all the protestations to the contrary, under socialized health care the lives of thousands of elderly and terminally-ill patients are ended prematurely through a combination of neglect, incompetence, and misjudgments by doctors.
First up was a report by a body representing NHS patients, which claimed that hundreds of thousands of patients have received “neglectful, demeaning, painful and sometimes downright cruel” treatment. This included patients receiving inadequate food and drink and having operations repeatedly canceled and symptoms misdiagnosed. In many cases the failings contributed directly to a patient’s death.
A few days later came a report which claimed that prisoners in Britain’s jails have a better diet than hospital patients.
Then, a group of doctors wrote to a newspaper to warn that NHS guidelines designed to improve care for the terminally ill were in fact resulting in patients having their lives ended prematurely. The scenario is as follows. A patient loses consciousness due to the side-effects of drugs or because of dehydration. A doctor interprets the loss of consciousness as an indication that the patient is close to death — and so food, water, and medication are withdrawn. No panels, no pulled plugs — just an inevitable downward spiral ending with an officially sanctioned and apparently “natural” death.
As I have related in my previous piece, I have intimate knowledge of how the NHS works, or fails to work. On several occasions my elderly mother was admitted to a hospital from her nursing home after becoming semi-conscious, usually following some minor illness unrelated to the dementia that eventually killed her. Each time the doctors would explain that there wasn’t much they could do, but each time the immediate problem turned out to be nothing more than dehydration.
Each time mum would come back to life, like the pot plant in ET, after a few hours hooked up to a saline drip.
On one occasion I remember the consultant coming around, spending about a minute assessing mum’s condition, and proclaiming that “all we can do is keep her comfortable.” The next day, one of the junior doctors working under the consultant was stunned to find mum sitting up in bed, talking to me, and drinking a cup of tea.