Socialized Medicine: A Warning from Across the Pond

Is socialized medicine the answer to your prayers? Free health care for all in the U.S.?

When I was a child in the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) delivered a good health care program. However, 60 years after it's inception the NHS lags behind most European countries. So before you decide that socialized medicine is the answer to all your medical woes, look carefully at the NHS. The system is cracking under the pressure of an increasingly aging population. Cutbacks are a common theme and the cost of drugs and treatment determine whether you are allowed to have them. Oftentimes, drugs are rationed depending on their cost. A recent report by NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) stated that terminally ill breast cancer patients will not be able to obtain a life-saving drug  because it is far too expensive. Hey, what does it matter? They're gonna die anyway.

Currently, waiting lists are common for most things on the NHS, especially hip and knee replacement surgeries, which are on the increase as people live longer. You can sometimes wait up to 18 weeks just for a referral. It can then take up to two years to actually receive the operation; that is if you meet all the NHS requirements, which include weight and age. One unlucky 61-year-old was refused life-saving heart surgery because she was deemed too old by a cash-strapped NHS Trust.

The NHS is constantly funding studies to investigate whether patients who are overweight, smoke, or drink alcohol should receive medical treatment on the NHS. A recent report said:

Patients with illnesses deemed to be "self-inflicted" could be denied treatment under guidance introduced by the drugs rationing watchdog.

Heavy drinkers or smokers and those who are overweight could all be refused help.

Doctors can refuse treatment via the NHS if they deem your disease is self-inflicted. For instance, overweight patients are being denied hip operations in East Suffolk so that NHS hospitals can save money. Is this the kind of treatment you want? A paramedic left someone to die because he thought the patient was not "clean" enough. Then there's the treatment Dan James received:

James believes the indifference with which her son was treated at two hospitals in the Midlands wasted 30 vital hours after the accident, in March 2007, which led to the 23-year-old becoming paralyzed from the neck down. When he was taken to hospital after a scrum collapsed on him, dislocating two vertebrae and trapping his spinal cord, James says "the terror on Dan's face was apparent" but he still had the use of his arms and hands. Some 30 hours later, his hand function had disappeared after he had been moved unnecessarily, put last in the queue for an MRI scan and waited for four hours for an ambulance to transfer him to the spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital.

Another report shows that one emergency department in a Staffordshire hospital let approximately 400 people die unnecessarily due to poor care. In response to this poor treatment, "[Prime Minister] Gordon Brown has apologized in the House of Commons for the failings of a hospital described as 'appalling' by an NHS watchdog."

Does an apology bring back your loved ones? What has been done to improve this hospital subsequent to the report?

Socialized medicine often means mediocre and late service. The patient does not get to choose the physician, the hospital, care plan, or timing of the operation or procedure. In Britain, that means relinquishing control and putting your health at the mercy of a system with a zip code lottery. Some Hospital Trusts have more money than others, but on the whole drugs are rationed, waiting lists are too long, and when things do go wrong you have to fight a bureaucratic machine that can take years and lots of your cash to prove medical negligence.

The problem is that the NHS has promised lifelong care. You pay with taxes and you get looked after "no matter the cost." However, nothing is that straightforward, and they are constantly changing the rules. As they cut back and ration drugs as well as nursing care, they also insist that your property will be sold to pay for your nursing home costs.

Of course "free" health care sounds appealing, but it can cost you your life.