The debate in the us about healthcare seems to be getting increasingly insane, with Obama being compared to Hitler, Sarah Palin spreading lies about “death panels” and assorted nonsense. A repeat of the debate in the early 1990s when the Clintons attempted to introduce healthcare reforms of their own was to be expected, but this debate is decidely more wacky.
One interesting side aspect of this debate has been how the UK has been dragged into it. When Sarah Palin is talking about “death panels” it turns out that she is referring to NICE. Stephen Hawking, having been cited as the sort of American who the NHS would kill, has intervened pointing out that, erm, he’s British and dependent on the NHS. Meanwhile Tory goldenboy Dan Hannan has been touring the US espousing how terrible the NHS is and why they are so much better off without it. What’s all the more remarkable is that the Obama proposals are actually closer to the sort of systems we find in mainland Europe – indeed the sort of proposals that in the UK we normally associate with the right. What passes for “socialism” in the US, the Lib Dems would more closely associate with the Orange Book.
Hannan appears to be blissfully unaware of the fact that despite the fact that the US healthcare system tops the OECD league table in terms of cost as a proportion of GDP, it leaves 25% of its citizens without cover. As well as the most expensive healthcare system it also has the worst outcomes. We can all come up with our criticisms of the NHS, but at half the cost (per capita) it remains one of the best value for money systems in the world.
In politics, it is all too easy to criticise public services. There is no question that the NHS could be improved and Liberal Democrats have plenty of ideas of how to do this. The central concern we have is ensuring that the system is more democratic and responsive to patient needs. There is also growing evidence that this is linked to levels of inequality where the UK does only marginally better than the US.
But with the system under attack on the other side of the Atlantic, it is perhaps a good time to reflect on what a tremendous achievement the NHS has been over the past 60 years. One of the most heartening aspects of the US debate has been the rise of the #welovethenhs meme on Twitter. A spontaneous reaction to the bile coming over from the States, thousands of ordinary people have been spreading their own stories of how the NHS has helped them and their families. Currently this is one of the top “trending” items on twitter meaning that thousands of Americans, in turn, are likely to read about how a better funded health system could help them. Neither the US or UK governments could have bought this kind of publicity.
At the Social Liberal Forum we’d like to do our own small bit as well, which is why we’ve set up our own We Love The NHS group on our new Social Network. Why not join the group and add your story there?