Here at LDV, #welovetheNHS

One of Obama’s key pledges in the US Presidential elections was major healthcare reforms.  The US is a deeply divided nation on health as in many other policy areas – it is simultaneously home to some of the planet’s best hospitals, the best research in medical advances and the best healthcare practioners – and also home to some of the worst poverty and barriers to healthcare, the worst developed-world child mortality rates.

Without being facetious, almost all of my knowledge of the American healthcare system comes from my knowledge of US TV.  And whilst House has access to an amazing battery of diagnostic tests, and Grey’s Anatomy shows how competitive training programmes for surgery are, Chicago’s ER is full of hobos having their toes cut off with nail clippers after losing them to frostbite in the snow.

46 million Americans are without healthcare insurance, and so have no access to the top-notch hospitals and treatment, resorting instead to the nailclippers at ER.  By no stretch of the imagination are they all tramps.

By trying to address these problems, Obama is picking battles with some very resistant establishments, including highly profitable insurance companies with an essentially closed market. And in doing so, he has stirred up some hornets nests of misinformation claims.

Among these are a number of claims about just how awful the NHS is – as a model of “socialised healthcare” that some Americans want to avoid.  They include the bizarre claim that Stephen Hawking would be dead if he had to suffer with NHS level care – all the more bizarre to anyone who knows that Dr Hawking is not, in fact, American and is very happy with the life saving treatment he receives on the NHS.

The strange claims for UK healthcare have prompted an online campaign on Twitter of people talking about the excellent care they have received and marking their words with the tag #welovetheNHS.

It’s one of the great shibboleths of UK politics. Everyone knows there are still improvements to be made in the NHS, but when some upstart colony starts critising it on the basis of misunderstood facts, we should all leap to its defence.

A few other posts on blogs I have read in the last few days make interesting reading:  on the ObamaLondon blog, LDV’s friend Karin Robinson is doing her bit to debunk some myths.  And Jonathan Calder’s Liberal England provides an historical perspective of the UK’s own battles to introduce “socialised healthcare” in the 1910s:

“If the Insurance Bill becomes law it will be advisable for us to leave England.”

Meanwhile the Evening News is warning that “we shall never boast of freedom again if we let this measure past,” and writing feelingly of “these days of highly paid servants”.

The cost of employer insurance for domestic staff is uppermost in many minds.

Some things never change.

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This entry was posted in LDVUSA and Online politics.


  • That free market cure website is hilariously bonkers. John Cohn of the New Republic and Ezra Klein (formerly of American Prospect and now Washington Post) are the people to read.

  • Simon Titley 12th Aug '09 - 9:59pm

    On this subject, I’d rather trust Paul Krugman than absurdly dogmatic right-wing libertarians any day of the week.


  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Aug '09 - 9:29am

    Tristan’s link suggests the removal of any sort of licensing or accreditation system from health care. So far as I can see, it advocates that absolutely anyone can tout for health care business. That would be “freedom”, removing state restriction which for people like Tristan is the source of all evil, and the ensuing competition would mean we would all get better and cheaper health care.

    This is something like we already have in “complementary health”, where dubious products and services are heavily promoted by those who have a vested interest in them. In fact, most of this is a rip-off, I know many people who have been suckered into paying huge amounts of money to dubious practitioners of various sorts.

    A problem with health care is that it’s not a market where I know what I want and can search for the best provider. Instead, I am reliant in the experts telling me what I need, which is a matter of great concern if those experts also make money from providing me with what they say I need. I myself have some scientific background, so can work out when people trying to sell me something in this line are saying rubbish, but most people don’t have that sort of background, which is why they seem so readily conned by smooth-talking salespeople.

    One might also note there is some of this in the American approach to religion. The “set up your own Church” movement is booming, no need for accreditation or the strict training and ordination of established denominations, and profit collected directly and used by the self-accredited pastors. If one thinks that religion is useless, one can see how this uselessness booms and cons people through the lack of a system of control. But if one does value religion, one can see here how it leads to bad religion driving out good.

    We may note how the clamour against Barack Obama’s healthcare proposals is being led by those who have a vested interest in the profits that can be made through the haphazard insurance systems that exist in the US. One can see how skilled these people are at telling lies. They have the wealth to manipulate the market of ideas so their ideas gain prominence and those which are not so geared to making personal profit do not get the airing they deserve.

    Tristan says that “war against the poor” is waged by a system of licensing. He seems unable, however, to see how war against the poor and gullible and those simply lacking in expert knowledge is waged by smart salespeople. I myself would greatly prefer a system where health care is rationed by those who take no financial benefit from providing it and I have reason to believe will make an objective assessment to one which is the free-for-all market nirvana which people like Tristan advocate. I don’t want to have to spend my time thinking and worrying about health care, and poring over manuals and league tables to try and work out which is the best provider for me and who is a quack and who is really qualified. That is a diminution of my freedom, it is not enjoyable, it takes up time and mental energy I would rather be spending on things I like. What I want is for that health care to be there when I need it and for me to be able to trust it. A system of state accreditation seems to me to be the best way to provide that.

  • The absolute key thing about the NHS is that I know that, should I suddenly take ill five minutes from now, the care I receive will not be dependent on which insurance policy I have or how much room there is on my credit card. Yes, there is an obligation in the US to treat emergency cases, but the follow-up care will be dependent on your insurance scheme, and they will look at it from a financial perspective.

    However, what’s really important is to have a healthcare system which works for the people of that particular country. What I object to about this is the misinformation and lies about the NHS being circulated within the US (primarily by that great bastion of objective reporting, Fox News.) The NHS works here. Yes, sometimes things go wrong, but on the whole it works for us, and we don’t want to change it. That doesn’t mean it’ll work in the US.

  • Liberal Eye 13th Aug '09 - 3:55pm


    I absolutely agree. Removing any form of licencing or accreditation from health care leaving market-based solutions to fill the gap would leave a situation rather like the one we now “enjoy” in the building trades. A quick scan of yellow pages reveals many organisations attempting just that yet somehow cowboy builders abound. The least worst option is usually to ask friends and neighbours for a recommendation; I wouldn’t want to have to do that if I ever fell ill with some obscure disease.

  • Revd Graeme Hancocks 13th Aug '09 - 8:18pm

    The UK NHS may not be perfect but it gernerally works well, delivers good service and provides universal health care for all according to their needs. What is wrong with that? That fact that US conservatives think this is “dangerous and orwellian” just shows how weird these people are. Why cant they enter into rational, calm debate based on respect instead of screaming and shouting and lying? Beats me.

    God bless the NHS!

  • OMG how can anyone have anything against free healthcare for everyone? What about people who can’t afford healthcare, what, you just let them die? How barbaric! I am SO glad we’re not like that over here in the UK. God bless the NHS, may she keep improving and have more funding! It took a long time but as a society, we evolved enough so that everyone has a decent base line of living – and still we strive to improve that. The NHS is a key symbol of our progress as a nation, society and culture. Something the US is yet to discover.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Aug '09 - 11:57am

    The US objectors are saying there are limits on what the NHS will provide. This is inevitable and we may see more of it as we discover new but very expensive ways of keeping people alive. The same would apply with any private insurers – the policies would have get-out clauses to avoid unlimited liability.

    The US objectors are both exaggerating the extent of the limits, and hiding the fact that the existence of the NHS doesn’t prevent people from purchasing private health care if they feel the NHS is not providing what they need. Reality is that if people are left to die here because they fall outside the limits the NHS allows, how more so is it in the US where there isn’t the universal health care service of the NHS.

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  • By Second day for #welovetheNHS on Thu 13th August 2009 at 6:36 pm.

    […] we brought you news about the bizarre battle between American rightwingers spreading misinformation about the NHS, and […]

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