“I deeply resent the Americans sneering at our (British) health service but perhaps that’s because the truth hurts”

President Barack Obama’s political enemies are rounding on his controversial proposals to extend government involvement in health care. One way in which they are doing so is to hold up our own cherished NHS for ridicule.

The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money. –Margaret Thatcher

His Right-wing critics accuse the NHS of putting an ‘Orwellian’ financial cap on the value of life by allowing elderly people to die without treatment. The case of a dental patient in Liverpool who supposedly had to superglue a loose crown has been mentioned as an example of the appallingly low standard of dentistry in Britain.

At the wilder reaches of seemingly lunatic allegations is the suggestion that anyone over the age of 59 in Britain is ineligible for treatment for heart disease. One leading Republican has also declared that the 77-year-old Senator Edward Kennedy, who is suffering from a brain tumour, would have been allowed to die in this country on account of his relatively advanced age.

President Obama He wants to ensure that the 40 or 50 million Americans – many of them black or Latino (OR ILLEGALS) – who do not have health insurance are able to receive the same standard of care as the majority who do.

Nevertheless, his proposals are characterised as ‘socialist medicine’, and the NHS is invoked as the living example of this abomination.We may be sure, I think, that most of those who are cheerily dredging up British scare- stories do not really believe them.

We are merely providing the ballast in a domestic American argument that is getting dirty. The question that interests me is whether there is a grain of truth hiding amid these insults. I’d say there was.

Whatever the failings and excesses of the American system, the statistics suggest that it delivers better outcomes than the NHS when dealing with serious illnesses. In treating almost every cancer, America apparently does better than Britain, sometimes appreciably so. According to a study in Lancet Oncology last year, 91.9 per cent of American men with prostate cancer were still alive after five years, compared with only 51.1per cent in Britain. The same publication suggests that 90.1 per cent of women in the U.S. diagnosed with breast cancer between 2000 and 2002 survived for at least five years, as against 77.8 per cent in Britain.

So it goes on. Overall the outcome for cancer patients is better in America than in this country. So, too, it is for victims of heart attacks, though the difference is less marked.

If you are suspicious of comparative statistics, consult any American who has encountered the NHS. Often they cannot believe what has happened to them – the squalor, and looming threat of MRSA; the long waiting lists, and especially the official target that patients in ‘accident and emergency’ should be expected to wait for no more than four – four! – hours; the sense exuded by some medical staff that they are doing you a favour by taking down your personal details.

Most Americans, let’s face it, are used to much higher standards of healthcare than we enjoy, even after the doubling of the NHS budget under New Labour. Of course, the U.S. is a somewhat richer country, but I doubt its superior health service can be mainly attributed to this advantage.

Americans should beware of any proposals that might threaten their standards, though President Obama is right to want to extend them to the poor.

As for us, it is time we accepted that the NHS is not the envy of the world, if it ever was. Even though it may not deserve many of the brickbats being thrown at it by Right-wing American critics, the practice of rationing expensive cancer drugs and treatments is undoubtedly more widespread in Britain than it is in America.

The principle of equal healthcare for everyone regardless of income is a precious one. The fact is, though, that there are other, better ways to achieve this than through an increasingly inefficient, centrally planned leviathan set up over 60 years ago. UK DAILY MAIL

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