Politics & Policy

Britain’s NHS: No Fun and Games

From the salute to the NHS during the Olympic opening ceremony in London
Most Brits who can afford private health insurance buy that instead.

The International Olympic Committee decided not to include in the opening ceremony a moment of silence to honor the eleven Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian gunmen during the 1972 games in Munich. That move drew the ire of NBC’s Bob Costas. During Friday’s ceremony, he commented that, although a private moment of silence was held before a mere 100 people this week at the Athlete’s Village, “for many, tonight, with the world watching, is the true time and place to remember those who were lost and how and why they died.”

Instead, the Olympic ceremony featured a weird, politically correct extravaganza by film director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire). It was hailed by the sports website The Roar with the headline “London 2012: Most political Olympics opening ceremony since Berlin 1936.” The 1936 games, of course, were an infamous propaganda exercise for Adolf Hitler.

For The Roar’s Spiro Zanos, “the political message at London was that Britain could recover its greatness and become Great Britain once again if . . . [it] re-embraced the radical politics that unleashed the industrial revolution and the welfare state. . . . If this means having the most political opening ceremony since the Berlin Olympics in 1936, then so be it.” The state-worship so ably skewered by Jonah Goldberg in Liberal Fascism is alive and well.

#ad#The Boyle ceremony got underway with images of a bucolic Britain being swept away by a cigar-chomping elite that builds satanic mills filled with oppressed workers as steeplejacks hang from the towering chimneys. Later, 600 doctors and patients recruited from National Health Service hospitals were featured in a bizarre tribute to socialized medicine, with children bouncing up and down on 320 hospital beds arrayed in front of a giant Franken-baby wrapped in bandages. Villains from British children’s literature, ranging from Cruella de Vil to Lord Voldemort, sweep in on the children, in an apparent reference to conservative forces seeking to reform the tottering NHS. The 15-minute sequence ended with a series of red lights triumphantly spelling out “NHS.”

Left-wingers were thrilled. “Brilliant that we got a socialist to do the opening ceremony,” tweeted Alastair Campbell, former communications chief for the Labour party. Boyle denied he was promoting a political agenda. “The sensibility of the show is very personal,” he told reporters. “We had no agenda other than . . . values that we feel are true.” At a news conference beforehand, he explained that one of the reasons he “put the NHS in the show is that everyone is aware of how important NHS is to everybody in the country. One of the core values of our society is that it doesn’t matter who you are, you will get treated the same in terms of health care.”

Can anyone seriously believe that? Sunday’s British papers report that a study by the research firm Lloyd’s TSB Premier Banking found that nearly two-thirds of Britons earning more than $78,700 a year have taken out private health insurance because they don’t trust the NHS. A survey by the British health-care organization Bupa found that two-thirds of its customers cited the risk of infection from superbugs as a top reason for buying private insurance. Shaun Matisonn, the chief executive of PruHealth, says that “patients today are sophisticated consumers of health care. They research the treatments they want, but cannot always get them through the NHS.”

Horror stories about the NHS abound. A 2007 survey of almost 1,000 physicians by Doctors’ Magazine found that two-thirds said they had been told by their local NHS trust not to prescribe certain drugs, and one in five doctors knew patients who had suffered as a result of treatment rationing. The study cited one physician who characterized the NHS as “a lottery.” A new study this year by GP magazine supports that conclusion. Through Freedom of Information Act records, it found that 90 percent of NHS trusts were rationing care.

Rick Dewsbury of the Daily Mail was aghast at the worship of the NHS during Friday’s Olympic ceremony. The columnist noted the sheer hypocrisy of the spectacle, as “the majority of the athletes taking part in the Games will have access to the most expensive cutting-edge private treatment available in the world for even the slightest graze on their bodies.”

Dewsbury recounted the 2009 case of Kane Gorny, a 22-year-old NHS patient. Gorny was admitted to the hospital for a hip replacement. A series of hospital employees refused his request for a glass of water and failed to give him diabetes medication. He went so far as to call the emergency operator for help. When the police arrived, nurses assured them that Gorny was confused and needed no outside help. A day later, he was dead of dehydration. The official inquest into his death was published this month. It found that neglect by hospital staff — “a cascade of individual failures” — contributed to his death. Here’s hoping that not everyone is “treated the same” in Britain’s NHS hospitals.

In Britain, we have seen what could be our future, and it’s not a pretty sight.

— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO.

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