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Socialized healthcare: The ‘untouchable’ of UK politics

May 7, 2010

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May 5, 2010
Socialized healthcare: The ‘untouchable’ of UK politics
By Paul Armstrong

After weeks of feverish election campaigning, Britain’s political parties have fought over every issue, from the economy to the country’s nuclear deterrent, with one exception: the National Health Service.

To many Republican politicians in the United States, a publicly-funded national health system like the NHS is the embodiment of austere, Soviet-era style medical care, but in the UK it is viewed as sacrosanct.

Centrally-funded through taxation, pressure to respond to growing demand has seen record levels of investment in the past decade.

Ruth Thorlby, a research fellow at the King’s Fund, told CNN that all the major parties appreciate the NHS strikes an emotive chord with the public and that it is a price worth paying. She said: “We have this extraordinary political consensus now that the funding structure of the NHS is sound.”

Conservative leader David Cameron seems as committed to the NHS as Labour, despite his party’s ideological disposition to the private sector.

He recently acknowledged its value on his party’s Web site. “Millions of people are grateful for the care they have received from the NHS — including my own family,” he said.

“One of the wonderful things about living in this country is that the moment you’re injured or fall ill — no matter who you are, where you are from, or how much money you’ve got — you know that the NHS will look after you.”

Cameron’s words were reinforced by the party’s election manifesto, in which it calls itself “the party of the NHS” and pledges “never to change at the idea at its heart that healthcare in this country is free at the point of use and available to everyone based on need and not ability to pay.”

Comment from Physicians for a National Health Program Senior Health Policy Fellow Don McCanne, M.D.: The United Kingdom has the ultimate system of socialized medicine: a government-owned and government-administered National Health Service (NHS). Though their system is much less expensive than ours in the United States, it is viewed as sacrosanct by the British citizens.

The system was launched in 1948 [that’s right, u.s. inhabitants, 1948! And Churchill opposed it!] by a left-wing Labour government, but its appeal has become so universal that the right-wing Conservative party now claims to be “the party of the NHS.”

In the United States we have chosen a right-wing solution over which we remain politically divided because of its serious flaws. Since we spend far more on health care than any other nation, we should be able to use those funds to craft a system with such intense universal support that we would consider ours sacrosanct as well.

Of course we can. Try to convince senior Tea Baggers to relinquish their Medicare, even though it is a government program. Medicare is a right that they have earned merely by being American taxpayers. Just imagine improving Medicare and providing it to everyone. After people experienced the benefits of an improved Medicare for all, can you imagine a major political party campaigning against the program? In fact, it’s the Republicans who are now expressing outrage over the fact that PPACA includes some reductions in Medicare funding.

Now that the Republican party seems to be presenting itself as “the party of Medicare,” wouldn’t you think that the Democrats would want to trump them by becoming “the party of an improved Medicare for all”?

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