National Health Service - The Truth!

Opponents to President Obama’s healthcare reform plan have circulated a number of serious lies and gross distortions about the UK’s National Health Service to defend their own interests and scupper plans that will help the 47 million Americans currently without healthcare cover.

What is the NHS?

The UK’s National Health Service provides a wide range of healthcare services - everything from antenatal screening and routine treatments for coughs and colds to open heart surgery, accident and emergency treatment and end-of-life care to the whole UK population of 60million people.

Most importantly it is free for people to access healthcare and 1 million patients are seen every 36 hours.

The NHS funded by general taxation and is organised and run at a local, regional level. It is one of the most efficient, most egalitarian and most comprehensive in the world, looking after everyone from their birth to their death. It is an institution supported by every major political party in Britain and the British population, who have been responding to the Republican attacks on the NHS on Twitter, at #welovetheNHS by posting their own stories of how the NHS has saved and improved the lives of them and their loved ones, for free.

Lie 1: Older people do not receive treatment on the NHS.

Ted Kennedy, 77, would not be treated for his brain tumour if he was in Britain because he is too old (Charles Grassley, Republican senator from Iowa)

In England, anyone over 59 years of age cannot receive heart repairs, stents or bypass because it is not covered as being too expensive and not needed, (an anonymously authored, but widely circulated, email).

The Truth

There is no ban on anyone of any age receiving any treatment – indeed, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of age when providing services. Professor Peter Weissberg, the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, an independent charity, says that “Growing numbers of patients over 65 with heart conditions are having surgery, including valve repairs and heart bypass surgery”. Additionally, the average age at which people have a bypass operation has risen from 58 in 1991 to 66 in 2008.Decisions over whether to recommend and perform surgery or prescribe drugs are clinical decisions, taken on a case by case basis on what is best for each patient.

Lie 2: Officials decide the ‘worth’ of each person’s life, denying treatment to those who are deemed ‘worthless’.

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking [who has Motor Neurone Disease, a degenerative illness] wouldn't have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless." (Investors Business Daily)

Government health officials in England have decided that $22,750 (£14,000) is what six months' life is worth. Under their socialised system, if a medical treatment costs more, you're out of luck (Club for Growth)

The Truth

Professor Stephen Hawking lives and works in Britain and received NHS treatment as recently as April 2009. He has responded to the above claim by saying that he “wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived”.

In Britain, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) decides whether new drugs represent value for money for the NHS. There has been a gross misrepresentation of its role; Nice assesses new drugs by looking at the amount and quality of extended life it is hoped the patient will gain by looking at the medical evidence. The current ceiling is £30,000 for a full course of treatment but exceptions are made.

Lie 3: Rationing means people are not able to access the treatment they need for serious conditions.

In Britain, 40% of cancer patients are never able to see an oncologist; there is explicit rationing for services such as kidney dialysis, open heart surgery and care for the terminally ill. (Conservatives for Patients' Rights)

The British NHS "does not allow" women under 25 to receive screening for cervical cancer (Jim DeMint, Republican senator from South Carolina)

The Truth

There is no ‘rationing’ for services such as kidney dialysis, open heart surgery or end of life care.

The above claim about cancer is from an out of date, 15 year old study. In 2000 a 10 year programme was launched, setting key targets for improvement. The National Audit Office, which is responsible for analyzing how effectively the government spends money, reported in 2005 that 99.2%of people who are referred by their doctor with suspected cancer see a specialist within 2 weeks and 89.9% of patients diagnosed with cancer begin treatment within 31 days.

There is an ‘End of Life Care Strategy’ that “aims to improve access to high quality care for adults approaching the end of life. This care should be available wherever the person might be, ie at home, in a care home, in hospital, in a hospice, or somewhere else.”

All women over 25 are routinely and regularly invited for a cervical smear. Any woman, at any age, who presents symptoms of cervical cancer will receive a smear test if their doctor thinks it is appropriate.

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