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British Defend NHS Against U.S. Criticism

Ben Cole, for HealthLeaders Media, August 18, 2009

As the politicians and industry stakeholders continue the laborious effort to enact healthcare reform, opponents of the effort have criticized plans to nationalize the system. These opponents often point to Britain's National Health Service deficiencies as an example of why a government-run healthcare system should not be implemented.

But the British are firing back against these claims, defending the NHS and adding yet another voice to consider in the health reform effort.

Established in the 1940s, the National Health Service is publicly funded and provides healthcare to United Kingdom residents. Most services are free, but there are charges associated with some aspects of personal care. The NHS also has a formal constitution which sets out the legal rights and responsibilities of the NHS, its staff, and users of the service.

Critics of the system have pointed to long wait times and rationed care as just some of the detrimental aspects of the NHS. They say these problems would be common in the United States if the federal government takes hold of the system.

The defense of the NHS has come from a variety of sources, and not just those who have a stake in the system. UK residents have fired back in online sites like Twitter: on the thread "#welovethenhs," tens of thousands of citizens have shown their support for the NHS.

Prime Minster Gordon Brown has also voiced his support of the NHS, as has Conservative party leader David Cameron after a fellow conservative appeared on Fox News and criticized the NHS for its long waiting list for operations and a lack of patient choice. The remarks, made by parliamentary member Daniel Hannon, led Cameron to dismiss Hannan's view as "eccentric."

The UK Department of Health has also defended the NHS system, and say the NHS characteristics that are being criticized are actually what makes it most attractive. The Department of Health notes that the services are provided based on need instead of the patients ability to pay and note that patients can make choices about which hospitals they visit and physicians they see. The Department also says that life expectancy in the United States is lower than in the UK despite Britain paying much less per capita for healthcare.

While there is, without a doubt, problems with the National Health Service, it is interesting the amount of the broad public and private support the NHS is receiving in the United Kingdom.

And even with a health overhaul, it is highly unlikely that the United States system will ever be exactly like the National Health Service. Most hospitals in the U.S. will continue to be privately run, for example.

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